Humans, and they're not getting of "it," is simply exhausting. Ho-hum.
While Marie Kondo-ing I decided to get rid of this electrocution contraption lest it spark more than joy. I'll miss this old mod torture device. Thanks for years of joy to my friend Kiley Fitzgerald for gifting me this orange wonder! #konmari
The Newport Folk Festival sells out in five minutes these days. Most people I know have to get their tickets on StubHub, which sucks, because they are often more expensive than what you would pay at face value. And face value isn’t exactly cheap — though it is worth it. But that is why it’s good to look out for the somethings you can get for nothing.
One freebie I enjoy is the Deering banjo tent with free lessons. I regret not taking one of those lessons, however. That said, I’m glad they exist. I’ll never be Béla Fleck or Abigail Washburn but I could really use to spruce up my skills since buying a banjo from Backyard Music a few years ago. If we want these machines to kill fascists, as Woody Guthrie’s guitar claimed to do, we ought to be able to play them, for Pete’s sake. Rock, or um, pluck and clawhammer on, Deering! You’re a real dear. Tales of Deering-do!
Who doesn’t love a loose, hot nut? Pop by The Nutty Bavarian (you can smell him from the Deering tent) and he’ll put one of his steaming hot nuts in your little palm. These stupid euphemisms never get old — I’m sure that Nutty Bavarian is counting on just that. A young woman handing out those nuts at this year’s Folk Festival, however, seems trepidatious to put one of them in the hand of a man dressed as a pirate flanked by several people dressed as birds (at least one of them a parrot).
I’m not the only one moved by hot nuts and I won’t be the last. “To say your nuts are mighty small, well it’s better than to have no nuts at all / Selling nuts — hot nuts / Get ‘em from the peanut man,” sings Georgia White in 1931.
If one hot nut doesn’t do it for you, you can also get free Late July corn chips in a variety of flavors, or at least you could at this weekend’s Folk Festival. I am partial to the sea salt flavor when I buy Late July at home, but am happy to try their nacho cheese flavor for free and really enjoy them. Hey, when it’s free, you get to live a little.
I appreciate the water filling stations so much at Fort Adams for the Folk Festival. I’ve been to festivals where the security is stricter than the TSA and you can’t bring in any container that has been opened. I understand they want to prevent people from dying and/or suing because they’ve brought vodka in a water bottle (hey, at this festival I saw some jerks squeezing booze out of a sunblock bottle into their maws). But if other festivals really cared about keeping people from getting dehydrated and not just making $5 for every bottle of water they would follow Newport Folk Festival’s lead and create water-filling stations. Take your bottle, use the old-school water fountain spigot, fill, and begone. Try not to die of dehydration, and no one gets sued.
Jenn Sutkowski should probably drink more water and wishes she had a filling station right now. Oh she does, it’s a sink. Find her recovering from the scorcher that was the Newport Folk Festival at jennsutkowski.com. Nacho cheese.
This Full Frontal column first appeared in the Newport Mercury.
A few years ago I started recording music for my Dad. I played some of his favorite Bing Crosby songs on the ukulele, recorded them simply, and gave him the CD for Father’s Day. Since then I've recorded songs for him for most holidays. Because my father has dementia, I realized I had to get over the perfectionist bullshit that is a tenet of my tribal beliefs.
When I was a kid "I was the 'let's put on a play' asshole,” as Jenny Slate describes it in “BUST.” I would screw up and my father would bellow: “Get upstairs and rehearse!” Fast forward thirty years and life jams forward at warp speed and for all my hemming and hawing and practicing I hadn't been playing music for a long time because I put entirely too much pressure on myself and what music was supposed to do in my life. I did play in some bands ranging from lame to OK that always belonged to some other guy. Those guys are all fine — it’s completely my bad that I didn’t have the cojones to do my own thing and so instead joined up with someone else's vision and then lived in constant frustration that my good ideas weren't heard. Maybe because I wasn't giving them space to live myself.
So, as anyone who’s lost anyone can attest (unless you go the opposite route and plant your feet and/or head firmly in cement) the ephemeral nature of life becomes damn apparent and you just might end up being acutely in touch with how precious and fleeting everything is. Which is a great place from which to get the hell over yourself and do something already, for the love of God, regardless of what your parents or your high school bully told you.
And so through recording for my Dad I found myself playing a lot more. I record for the joy of it, to follow the sound and my love of harmonies. And I'm also now in the Somerville Ukulele Club with four great women and we end up doing stuff like playing during the day for banner celebrations and seeing other local acts we wouldn't otherwise run into.
The best part is when little girls run up to us at the end of our sets. I remember being little and looking up to female musicians I would see on those special occasions I was allowed to come along when my brother was singing at Nobody's Inn or somewhere and a lady would be playing, too. Those women were magic to my young heart and so to now be one of those women to little girls just makes my heart grow three sizes.
I did not play perfectly on the day pictured above, And this gig was only three-fifths of our band for various reasons. My dear Abby limped in with a busted knee but we pulled it off. My love of playing and laughing with my gals cannot be overstated.
We got to see the amazing Brazilian folk band, Robson Lemos and his cohorts, pictured above, with this beautiful dancer, Paula, at the center, dancing through the rain with a smile the whole time. My cherished friend Emily talked about how full of joy this dancer was — so full, in fact, that she made Emily tear up when she stretched her hands towards hers. We're a tender sort.
It was just a bunch of us on the steps of the East Somerville branch of the Somerville Public Library, the tiniest of crowds because the rain poured on and off. Even this red-faced guy who was lurching around (off to the right in the above photo being placated by Theresa, our fearless leader of the day and organizer of the occasion) made us a bit tense but really was enjoying the music.
I marveled at how gracefully Lemos managed to handle the red-shirted man when the guy got onstage. Lemos eventually came off the stage to end the set by pulling a homemade bull costume over his body (kind of like a Chinese dragon) and ran into the man’s red shirt playfully with the head of the bull. It reminded me of how my Dad always used to say feeding and working my muscles would make me “strong like bull,” with a put-on accent.
Lemos' music and playfulness did soothe the savage red-shirted beast, as did our music for a time. The guy yelled out to us that he wanted to hear Janis Joplin but he was also pliable in our musical hands, making animal noises during a song we play called “Misery Farm.”
I learned a lot from watching Lemos and his band. Eventually you have to let yourself be part of the flow, with what you have at hand, trusting that music will triumph — you’ve rehearsed enough (for now). Now it is time to be strong like bull, but tender, too.
Exemplar: a person or thing serving as a typical example or excellent model.
Almost anyone or anything can be an exemplar at any time, I believe. Sometimes my cat is my exemplar. How is he the most handsome and comfortable, my husband and I ask the air. And the air answers: because he just is, he doesn’t think about being handsome, he just exists. (May God shield the world from our unctuous praise if we ever have children).
Other unlikely but worthwhile exemplars are trees, Jeff Bridges’ The Dude, and Bruce Lee’s beloved water: “You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” We already are, my friend.
But sometimes you need a more human exemplar. And right now, while so many terrible things are happening in the world and in our culture (which, admittedly could be stated at any time humans roam the planet), it is a good time to listen and choose an exemplar as a beacon through the darkness. The loudest is rarely the best role model when trying to find the path of a compassionate soul, so tuning out all the noise of the day isn’t a bad place to start.
Like they used to say in after school specials (before those morphed into Lifetime movies for the now-adult people who watched them growing up), ask a friend or an adult you trust. Asking a kid you trust is a good idea, too. My favorite yoga teacher taught us several poses last weekend that her 4-year-old son made up each morning and we laughed our asses off practicing crab pose, ocean floor pose, and black-tipped reef shark pose. Sometimes an exemplar is someone who is going to teach you how to be less serious. I could use that.
But my current exemplar is not making me less serious. Lately I’ve been listening to Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir about grief, “The Rules of Inheritance,” while walking. One of the brilliant women in my writing group loves an exemplar and introduced me to their value. She recommended this book since I’m working on a lot of material about my mother and grief. To walk on a rainy day and listen to a young woman read about losing her mother to cancer brings a lot back for me, and I know from experience that writing about anything deep is going to do that. Maybe that’s why I used to write about television so much instead.
And then we need exemplars to balance our exemplars. Red pills and blue pills. So I’ve been balancing Smith’s memoir with Janice MacLeod’s lighthearted “Paris Letters,” and wanting to eat chocolate croissants all day. Perhaps luckily I can’t think of a great place to get any. My husband practices “Here Comes the Sun” on the guitar and I get to take bright yellow breaths before I follow Smith back into the depths.
Jenn Sutkowski looks forward to (crying through) the film adaptation of “The Rules of Inheritance” (release date unknown), starring and produced by Jennifer Lawrence. Hopefully “Paris Letters” will be adapted soon, too. Come share virtual croissants at jennsutkowski.com.
Presently inspired and writing about how recovering from mistakes sometimes creates the most brilliant creative moments. As a recovering perfectionist I have to remind myself that the human mind is often at its best while figuring out how to work its way out of a jam (or spilt zabaglione, as the case may be).
Below find a link to Chef Massimo Bottura's recipe for one such mistake-gone-right, called "Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart," from his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. I think these little creative miracles, if you will, happen a lot with food because when you're working in a kitchen your brain doesn't have time time tell you your idea is stupid, and even if it does, you've got to serve something anyway.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.