The 2012 Live Oak Music Festival

Well another Live Oak Music Festival has come and gone. We have been going every year for the past 8 years or so, except the year when Diego was 2 and Charlie was 9 months old and I have never regretted that decision for a second.

It is very interesting going every year with the kids because the milestones are quite extraordinary. A couple years ago was the first year that we could bicycle around the festival on two wheelers as a family. And this year was the first year that Diego, at 6, really wanted to take off and bike all by himself, which he did. It was hard to let go.

This year’s lineup had some big names in it and, as usual, there were some good acts and some bad acts. Some big names disappointed and others came through.

Back before the kids were born I soaked up a lot of the music. These days I just catch little snippets, but it is easier to cut away for an entire show sometimes. This year, my must see shows were James McMurtry and David Lindley. David Lindley’s set was a bit flat, but the highlights were the Excedrin song, which was one of the funniest songs I have every heard, and Joe Craven doing the accompaniment. Joe Craven is very tasteful in how he accompanies other musicians. He stays out of the way yet adds a very important element. HIs multi-instrumental ability is something to behold. He is a show in himself as a sideman.

James McMurtry, put plain and simple, kicked ass. He was by far the musical highlight of the weekend for me. His lyrics are so fantastic. I love watching someone who has lyrics that I can only dream of aspiring to. Lots of times I am disappointed by the awful lyrics I am hearing, but McMurtry is a master songwriter. And his band rocked. They were just a 3 piece, but they were so tight and full of sound that they did not need anyone else. An additional guitarist joined them later in the set, but his solos were barely audible and it didn’t really matter.

When I think about putting a band together these days it is in the James McMurtry template. Groovy bass with lock-step drums that hold back in the pocket to let the lyrics come through as audibly as possible, yet which provide a rocking groove to allow simple chord progressions to come alive. And I also have to mention James’ guitar playing, which is really fantastic. He is unheralded as an electric guitarist, but he is damn good. James McMurtry is the shit. If you like fantastic lyrics and good rock-n-roll then he is not to be missed.

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The week of my 40th birthday

I am 40 now. 40 and 5 days to be exact. I entered my 4th decade on 11/17/11, which is a pretty cool date. It was a pretty incredible week. I didn’t do anything outrageous, but at this point in my life outrageous does not a good week make. So what makes a good week? Apparently solitude.

After 5 rigorous years of child rearing, I decided to open my birthday week with a few days of alone time. I am currently infatuated with Kirk Creek campground up in Big Sur and having a new tent trailer definitely helps with the infatuation. So I thought it sounded nice to go up there for a few days all by my lonesome. However, I must say I was a bit freaked out at the prospect. After all, after 5 years of family mayhem, you get used to the mayhem. Would the solitude make me totally depressed?

As a hedge against depression (and solitude), I invited my friend Jake to join me on the first night. He is my best friend from high school and he happened to be in town at the time from Portland. I called him about 2 hours before I left and told him that he had better come with me. It was kind of a test for him. After all, he has a child who is almost 3, so a night away for him was just as precious as one for me. But the question was, could he extract himself on such short notice from the sticky web of domesticity? The answer, to my relief, was yes. So Jake lumbered up Highway 1 in his Econoline and met me just as the winter sun was setting over the Pacific. We wasted no time in trying our best to reconstruct a typical night of high school revelry. Too much beer: Check. Sitting in the van listening to loud rock-n-roll: Check. However, this time around, it was our rock-n-roll. Yes, we played our very own homemade rock music. Jake played songs from his upcoming Heavy Sweaters release which consists of him on heavy guitar and vocals and his friend John on tasteful yet pounding drums. I played selections from my as-yet unnamed release. And, of course, as big, grown-up 40 year olds the beer in our hands was now tasty microbrews rather than low-grade American lager. Oh, how we have moved up in life.

Jake left early the next morning, which meant I was finally alone. And I soon discovered that being alone was AMAZING. Granted, nothing particularly amazing happened, but that is why it was so damn fun. I did a lot of nothing. I slept in. I made coffee. I read. I took a bike ride. I hiked. I watched the sun set. I cooked a steak. I drank beer. I stared at the fire. I strummed my guitar. i listened to music. I did lots of normal, mundane, ho-hum, everyday activities, but I did them alone, at a gorgeous campsite, in gorgeous weather, without children. It was profound.

But after a few days I was ready to come home. Well, I was ready to come home because I knew I had three more days of fun and games ahead of me. The plan was to come back home, watch the boys for a night while my wife taught, and then leave with her the next morning for ANOTHER 3 day trip to Big Sur. But this time the kids were being left with the grandparents and we were going to stay in lodging that was a step up from a tent trailer. We had reserved a studio on VRBO that had a great view and was a stones throw from Nepenthe restaurant, the classic Big Sur haunt.

The rental was a splurge but was really nice. Most importantly, it had a hot tub. I love hot tubs. I especially love hot tubs late at night when it is cold and my body aches. But the coolest thing about the studio is its hiking trail that leads down a canyon, through a redwood grove, and up to Nepenthe. So on the first night we donned our headlamps and navigated the terrain under a pitch-black sky. The redwoods were gigantic and beautiful and a brook bisected the canyon and the soft ground. We followed a tributary stream up the other side of the canyon and it spit us out at Nepenthe, where a fire burned on the patio and red christmas lights cast a glow that harkened back to a hippie heyday. And I longed to travel back in time to that hippie heyday, where I imagine a total free-for-all of dancing and revelry. But Thursday night post-millenium the place was dead. After all Big Sur will forever be a time capsule, with the edifices intact but the cast long gone. A couple trustafarians slinked into the bar and ordered $7 drafts, while a downtrodden gal with a brown grocery sack solicited rides from neo-hippies whilst stealing nibbles from a 1LB Hershey bar to stave off hunger.

Tent Trailer + Big Sur + Great Weather + Awesome Campsite

Add up the four items above and it is tough to go wrong. We got a call in the middle of last week from my stepsister who offered up a campsite at Kirk Creek in Big Sur for the weekend that she was unable to use. We had not used our tent trailer since mid June and I was not very motivated to dust it off ad hit the road until I got the call. And once I did it finally hit me that all that hard work and $$ we had put in to get our camping scene dialed in was finally paying dividends.
It took about 1.5 hours on Friday to get everything squared away for departure, since everything was in disarray. We hit the road at about 4:30 on Friday and by 6:30 we were setting up the tent trailer at one of the most beautiful campsites I have ever seen. Saturday and Sunday ended up being spectacular days, with virtually no wind and clear, warm days.

Click on the photo below to enlarge it and revel in the grandeur. Thank you Big Sur for another awesome weekend. I love you.

Big Sur Baby!!!

High Sierra Music Festival

We leave early tomorrow for the High Sierra Music Festival. The car is packed and I am really excited. First of all, this will be the first road trip with the kids since last summer. Six hours tomorrow to Nevada City, and then q couple more the next day to Quincy. Then we will be tent camping at High Sierra for 5 nights. This could be really fun, a total disaster, or a combination of the two. Regardless, the line up is great. Gillian Welch on Thursday, My Morning Jacket on Friday, Delta Spirit on Saturday, Ween and Los Amigos Invisibles on Sunday. And lots of amazing acts in between. I hope the kids like it. I hope we like it. I hope this becomes a tradition. Stay tuned, as I will write a lengthy review upon our return after the 4th of July holiday.

Tent Trailer Madness!

The new tent trailer. Woohoo!


Monday night here at the homestead and the boys just fell asleep. Wife is galavanting up north in the nations most liberal city (SF I believe, which is trying desperately to hold onto the moniker with its anti-circumcision initiative). She was smart. She set up this trip to immediately follow our return from the Live Oak Music Festival, which was this past weekend. I am surrounded by dust, dirty laundry, and hastily packed plastic bins that have yet to be decommissioned. She is surrounded by whatever one chooses to be surrounded by on a Monday night in the USA’s most liberal city. Oh, the possibilities.
Live Oak was quite a success this year. We have been going for several years now. We only took a year off when Diego was 27 months and Charlie was 10 months. Before kids, there was a lot of music watching and hanging out. With kids, it has been madness and the music watching has been pushed to the back back burner of a 1,000 burner stove. But we do not go for the music. We do go for the cameraderie and this year there was plenty. It was so much easier this year since both boys can ride a two wheeler and neither of them are going to randomly wander off if I am not paying attention. Finally, I can kinda sorta relax.

The tent trailer was a heavenly addition to our camping set up this year, since in years past we have either tent camped or used our vanagon. We also christened our new porta-potti, which was a lovely addition to our scene. I recall last year, when Charlie, at a mere 2 years old, insisted on being in the Marborg commode all by himself. I would stand outside the door fretting and praying that he not fall into the fecal soup below. Thankfully, he never did.

I am a cyber shopping whore

In two days I will celebrate the one month anniversary of having broken and sprained my foot. Ah, what a lovely time it has been. The grass in the yard is up to my knees, my muscles are beginning to atrophy, I am going stir crazy, and my wife and kids are anxious to get the old man back. Although ask my wife and she will tell you that a 100% Derek is only a few percentage points more helpful than a gimpy Derek. Ouch. Anyways, I’m giving the healing process another month. Meanwhile, with a new tent trailer sitting in my driveway and a couple trips planned for later this month, I have been keeping myself busy by seeking out all the ‘must have” items on our camping trip. Honestly, I have no idea how sub Saharan African refugees manage without a tire leveler, a battery powered air compressor, a portable toilet, and a 10×10 shade canopy. Yes, I am the proud owner of all these and many, many more items that are slated to arrive on my doorstep over the next week.

I am not a cyber shopper. However, every three or four days, when I come home from work to discover a parcel on the porch with my Wife’s name on it, I think to myself “why don’t I order presents for myself too???!!!” Well, for the next week it is going to be a nonstop muthafuckin’ Christmas/Hannukah extravaganza at the Senn household! Three of the aforementioned items have already arrived, and the portable toilet should be here any day now! And the hammock, and the battery powered fan, and the really cool $20 bandana that can do ANYTHING, and the brake regulator, and the…

Six months ago I was writing blog entries about austerity and erasing debt. And here I am today staring at my new $200 Caravan Displayshade canopy with removable walls. It is a must have!! Even at 23.99% interest. I swear!! As is the portable toilet. As are the battery powered christmas lights and the 9×12 plastic carpet. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the market for RV and camping accessories is booming. It is the first economic indicator that signals a very strong recovery, because it means things are getting better when you are comfortable enough to spend $85 on an RV tire leveler rather than just using 2×6’s from the scrap heap.

In my defense, I have been fairly productive while on R&R. I have read books and magazine articles, and I have played guitar. I have contemplated life and I have barked at my family members from the prone position. But at 10:00 at night, when the Vicodin is peaking and there is nowhere to be other than on the couch resting that foot, the online shopping world is a mighty cozy place to be and the clicking of the mouse to consummate a purchase is about the only way I am able to get any decent exercise these days.