Liveblogging the Palmetto Line on Amtrak

So in an hour and a half I’m off north from Charleston to DC via the Palmetto Line — and hopefully we’ll be reasonably on time! If I get a chance to I’ll liveblog a few impressions here and there — I really do like train journeys in general and this all-day one suits me just fine. I’ve got a lunch pretty much packed and ready to go courtesy of the great chef down at Blend, a good lunch/dinner spot not far from my aunt and uncle, and I’ve got books, music, etc. — all I need. Hope your day runs as well as I hope mine does! Updates will be posted below in reverse chronological order [EDIT: just to make it read more clearly now, this has now been edited to be in chronological order from the top, but the content of the posts remains unchanged]:

Charleston station

10:10 am — off and running! Train arrived in good time, boarding was pretty swift, got two seats to myself for the moment and there’s an outlet next to the window if I need a recharge. A little bumpy but that’s how it works, and the air conditioning works just fine. I am expecting some delays by default but so far so good! Just chugging away from the Charleston area further upstate for now…

11:00 am — now in Kingstree, SC and a bunch of folks are boarding in good time. First hour all good except for the only crying kid nearby that inevitably will prompt many of us to have somewhat unpleasant thoughts. Scenery’s been nice, nothing unexpected but a few nice moments amid the trees: corn fields, a canal, a horse ranch. All as relaxed as I could hope, kid aside. (I could move, sure, but better the devil you know…)

11:16 am — first stop on the line to, I assume, let an opposite train pass. Much later than I expected such a moment, really. I’m guessing arrival could easily be up near 10 pm or so in DC, but hey, leaving Charleston on time was a bonus already!

11:30 am — we’re pulling into…well, some place, easing up to the stop. Lake City by name, at least its more rundown side. Though now we’re picking up speed. Could have just been a pause!

The joys of Florence, I guess

11:46 am — and we’re about at Florence, SC, the biggest stop since Charleston. Apparently a pretty big group of passengers due so I won’t be surprised if I get a seatmate here shortly. Really great run so far, only thing to complain about is that the PA seems to be out in this car but that’s a small point with the attendants being all over the place. Even the loud kid is asleep — for now! — and I just finished listening to the Simply Saucer reissue. A little hungry but I’ll wait on 1 or so for lunch, need to stretch things out here a bit.

12:23 pm — been making good time since Florence and my seatmate is engrossed in reading so hurrah for that. Little change in the general scenery of fields, trees and roads plus the occasional hamlet. Some old buildings and rusted out tractors or more to be seen. Andrew mentioned yesterday this was one of the nation’s poorest states and I admit I can see it, though it isn’t as desperate as southern Arkansas felt. In a thoughtful mood, doing a bit of reading and catching up with folks online, a bit of melancholy in my head. It happens.

Yay Dillon

12:33 pm — at Dillon, SC, liking the train station. Keep an eye on the Flickr stream for uploads.

1:21 pm — well into North Carolina now and haven’t stopped since Dillon. In fact there was a freight train stopping for us, a rare sight indeed. Had my lunch and feel agreeably stuffed, maybe too much so. Need to work some of all this good eating off! It’s all been easygoing for a while now, scenery unchanged but with some random highlights, like the semi-swamp spot with bare and stripped trees rising out of the midst, not to mention a few abandoned stations, some in small towns, others on spurs in the middle of nowhere, who knows originally for what purpose. Slowing down a touch now, not clear why, but I’d guess it was a regular thing, perhaps a station is much nearer than I can tell.

1:39 pm — pulled into Fayetteville and taking on people. All kinda nondescript but there’s a sign for an Airborne and Special Operations Museum nearby, which is perhaps apt.

Somewhere in Virginia...

5:40 pm — well that was something to learn! Apparently AT&T thinks there’s nobody between Fayetteville and Petersburg. This curiosity aside, all still well here, running about half an hour or more behind but that’s more than acceptable given my expectations. Some lovely views along that interim stretch, including going over some raised tracks over low swamps and even a small town. Curtains drawn to block out the sun and Richmond forthcoming…

6:11 pm — my friend Eve questions the existence of people in that stretch of land noted in the previous post. I assume the barns, roads and cars mean something. Train stop to let another Amtrak train pass — I’ll allow for that — and it is on into Richmond.

Sunset approaches

6:52 pm — at this point I can afford to indulge in the tinier kind of gripes, ie, why can’t the curtains on the windows here fully meet in the middle instead of having a big enough gap to let the setting sun glare in on my face? Yes I am the new Dave Barry. Or alternately, the new Mark Russell, minus the songs.

8:14 pm — home stretching it now and I’ve little to add beyond kicking myself at missing a slew of great sunset scenes. Snagged an okay one and it’s going up on Flickr. Otherwise I should be at Union Station within an hour and hanging with Tombot shortly thereafter. Works for me! Another blog post tomorrow maybe, otherwise have a good evening…


Terrastock Friday — live reports!

As with yesterday, live reports on the sets as they happen, plus photos here and there in the Flickr stream [EDIT: and now that all the photos are up and tagged and all, I’ll add some plus direct links back to appropriate band websites; however, my initial impressions will stand as they are.]:

United Bible Studies preach the gospel

United Bible Studies — another fine surprise, specially recommended by sleeve on ILX. Reminds me a bit of a more electric/folk and less goth Unto Ashes given the blend of styles that resolve into a dark lilting intensity, both loud and fragile. Sharron Kraus guested, which leads me to…

Sharron Kraus takes it solo

Sharron Kraus — unsurprisingly wonderful, performing on violin and banjo. Heavy and expected anticipation for this one given her many collaborations. After a fine solo set on banjo, she’s joined by the United Bible Studies on vocals and drums while she plays violin on a ‘midsummer song.’ Quite lovely and rich sounding, a great closer!

Ignatz — took a break to chat outside with friends and otherwise relax a bit, but what I heard sounded good, v. Loren Connors spiked with harsher edges.

Antietam do their thing

Antietam — never really had an opinion on them in the past, a certain respect but no more. Their set confirms this — loud, energetic, a couple of strong moments but little else to add.

Black Forest Black Sea let it all fall apart just so

Black Forest/Black Sea — a beautiful fragmented glow. This has always been the case with Black Forest/Black Sea, and this afternoon is one of their best. Working without a PA and letting their voices and spindly, crackling performances set the tone, and we’re all duly enraptured. A highlight.

Sleeping Pill — aka Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo. It’s an experimental set for them but again, it’s time for chat and circulation for me. I do like what I hear though!

Tanakh, Terrastock 7 version

Tanakh — Jesse Poe rapidly pulls together an ad hoc group — and I helped! In a small way. Kawabata was already on board, I grabbed Joe Turner and he got Brendan Quinn in, flagged down the lead fellow from United Bible Studies when Jesse mentioned he’d love to see if they could help, looks like Tara Jane O’Neill is there too maybe (whoops, I’m wrong — it’s a fellow in a very Tara like hat, wait it’s Kris Thompson, of course! Three quarters of Abunai!) and the end result is magic, everyone playing following Jesse’s lead and doing a damn great job. Kawabata and Brendan’s filigrees stand out but the whole is as lushly romantic as Tanakh is at their best. A pleasure and I hope there’s an official recording, and Jesse’s wideeyed humility and generosity is evident.

Plastic Crimewave lights up

Plastic Crimewave Sound
— biker spacerock messiah crucified strutting feedback motorik YEARGH! Total goddamn compliment. Makes the sunset seem like a nuclear blast. Give these guys a B-movie to star in!

Linus Pauling Quartet and their littlest fan

Linus Pauling Quartet — somewhere between the volume, the educational films and Satan and Dungeons and Dragons, I saw God and he said YARRRRRRGH!!!!! From Texas. Naturally.


Major Stars — Wayne and Kate are very much in love for how else would they fondle each other’s feedback so well? “Just” another Major Stars set, in that hair was everywhere as was the fog from the fog machine. The neighbors up the hill hopefully have escaped to local bars.

Damon and Naomi — skipped this one as I’ve seen them at past Tstocks and enjoyed them well enough but conversation called and I took it easy…though I did see their last couple of songs accompanied by…


Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh — noise, chaos, serenity, reflection, epic rock. I would say more but it is late. Roll on Saturday!

Terrastock Thursday — live reports!

Okay! Mini-reviews posted after each set, photos will appear as they do in the Flickr stream. [EDIT: and now that all the photos are up and tagged and all, I’ll add some plus direct links back to appropriate band websites; however, my initial impressions will stand as they are.]


The Photographic -- or at least their drumset

The Photographic — a local trio, guitar/bass/keyboards, who are still funding their own sound but are off to a great start. Very much a shoegaze instrumental act but with a strong rolling drum sound which adds heft to the performance. Think the clean triumphalism of Sianspheric in part. Good way to begin!

Parlour ponder

Parlour — another Louisville instrumental band — who would figure! Eight person lineup, from guitars to horns. It’s enjoyable but I admit to being more impressed by them rather than fully getting into it. They have many elements down to a T, the steady building crunches, the structured jams, but nothing is on fire for me. No complaints, at least.

Elephant Micah in the shadows

Elephant Micah — lovely, full stop. A last minute sub for Marissa Nadler and to my mind, a more than worthy one. Really enjoyed many of his releases over the moons and hearing him perform these short, delicate songs this way is surprisingly effective, and affecting. A fine counterpoint to the previous two sets. Nick Drake comparisons audible but warranted, but he has his own vocal style and way around melody.

Dead Maids make a noise

Dead Maids — MUCH more like it in comparison to Parlour. Instrumental epic drone psych and all, but with frills, filigrees and frayed edges. The guitar work in particular is lush in ways suggestive the Cocteaus and early Verve, or even And Also the Trees, but just as apt to find and focus on a core hook. They work within an established form but find ways to reinvent. Another great intoduction!

Hush Arbors — sorry, didn’t see this set! Had to cut out, lack of sleep was kicking in…

EMP 2008 Pop Conference — keynote panel

As it happens — more or less — some thoughts on the opening keynote panel for EMP:

Ritmo and Blues: Hidden Histories Shaking Up “American” Pop

We all know the story: R & B got with country and they named the baby rock and roll. But really, “American” pop has always been a love triangle – profoundly influenced by the instruments, rhythms, and repertoire of Caribbean, Afro-Caribbean, and Mexican-origin communities. This roundtable discussion, featuring a mix of musicians and scholars, is inspired by the exhibition American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, on display at the EMP|SFM and guest curated by University of Washington faculty. Looking at what scenes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Miami, and New York created within a context of intense anti-immigrant politics and nativist sentiment, the exhibition attempts to shift discussion of national culture by reframing narratives of U.S.-produced rock and roll.

Participants: musicians Louie Perez (Los Lobos), Raul Pacheco (Ozomatli), panel co-organizer Martha Gonzalez (Quetzal), and El Vez; American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music curators Michelle Habell-Pallán, Shannon Dudley, and Marisol Berríos Miranda.

Discussants: Kandia Crazy Horse, Josh Kun, Marie Miranda and Ned Sublette.
Moderated by: Michelle Habell-Pallán

Posted in reverse chronological order:

9:01 pm — last question about politics as well as the industry — good stuff but I’m needing to wrap up. Good start all around for the conference! More later in a new entry!

8:53 pm — a last comment from an older Seattle Chicano activist noting the history of the area and asks if there are modern corridos. He also mentions himself as when he first arrived in Seattle fifty years back as “the loneliest Chicano on the planet,” which Raul loved! He tells the story of a bunch of teens from Juarez who are able to snake a few goods from across the border and who attack some US agents. A kid is arrested but escapes — and Raul asks, who is the hero? Everyone on the stage had to work hard to get those stories out.

8:44 pm — Ann Powers moderates audience questions…a grad/social worker from San Diego working with kids here noting how their identity looks to LA but often embraces division, north-south beefs, gang problems. He asks how arts can be supportive and offers much praise to the artists. Louie ponders the question of communication and the definition of being American. 70 million Latinos in the US is a sign alone of the definition changing. For Los Lobos it was in perfecting the vehicle of expression, not limiting themselves to carrying picket signs.

8:33 pm — Ned doesn’t have a problem with sabor but does with ‘aMerican’ and then goes in a series of great bits I can’t really sum up, but notes Cuban/Mexican differences and more, as well as ‘jingoistic’ summaries of what it is to be American and much more besides. Shannon notes the exhibit tried to be diverse and inclusive. Michelle wittily talks about how “Cuba is so Chicano” and what she really meant while Raul speaks of his Cuban visit as an experience to learn more about music and others, from fundraising to finding six guys in an old church killing it on their instruments.

8:25 pm — Marisol sees change in just their being there and in the reactions of the attendees — she has high hopes. Shannon noted that the NEA was distrustful of a grant request because of industry connections while El Vez notes that the musicians need support in a YouTube world. Michelle adds to the exhibit talk regarding education and “putting our story in the big story,” plus noting as Marisol adds that there is a lack of intercommunication.

8:18 pm — Marie asks entre nosotros “is a change going to come” because of the exhibit — Raul takes the wide and inclusive approach, that the change happened a long time ago, “I will be here either way.” Martha feels that the exhibit doesn’t change anything while still providing pride even while the industry chases money. She is not waiting for change, especially based on her own band’s experience.

8:13 pm — El Vez notes that what he does is constantly “add on” while Louie sees sabor as ingredient not additive, something vital like yeast in bread. A mystery why there were so many Chicano soul bands but not so many black mariachis, that there is something in urban sounds.

8:08 pm — Marisol says that sabor is not a taste but the center, the substance. Martha notes the “mad dash for cash” with things like Cinco de Mayo instead of the recombinations that the musicians and listeners make — and her mom LOVED “Double Dutch Bus” as did she!

8:03 pm — Josh asks after the title — ‘sabor’ or taste and additive, and asks how the panelist feel about being “added” to American culture, as well as the politics of playing non-rock and roll musics.

8:01 pm — Marisol and Shannon add further suggestions and memories.

7:56 pm — Raul feels that the full range of experience can’t be fully captured, notes how in fighting for ourselves (speaking of ‘the black and the brown’) don’t want to give a little ground sometimes, that cultural exchange can and does still happen.

7:50 pm — Kandia notes a friend who spoke in the exhibit, also a line “Wes Montgomery goes East LA,” noting her own family background with Caribbean and Spanish background but how it is not upfront in her sense of identity. Sounds very nervous, honestly!

7:43 pm — El Vez speaks of growing up among white surfers but with strong family pride and how a helped him and others be their own heroes just like their white heroes, while Louie talks of how “he’s not a kid anymore” and speaks eloquently about his many experiences with music, loving rock and roll and newly appreciating Mexican standards, “crossing generational divides.”

7:35 pm — Raul says “Who cares?” — meaning that you need to react to stereotypes and pigeonholing by simply carrying on, in life and in music, and that recombinations and creativity has “been going on since the beginning of time…I feel happy to be open.”

7:30 pm — Martha talks about growing up in East LA and how Los Lobos in particular helped to demonstrate, as further movements and bands have shown, that “we exist…in spite of the industry.”

7:25 pm — Marisol talks about the sound modules in the installation, “telling the story with the sound” for a diverse audience, playing a sample from the salsa module, music with illustrative narration.

7:15 pm — Shannon talks about how Caribbean music is often seen as black, notes how “Louie Louie” has roots in a Cuban composition, “El Loco Cha Cha.” He notes that Richard Berry learned the song from LA Chicanos rather than Cubanos, noting further the question of communication between Latinos.

7:12 pm — Michelle introduces the panel — five minutes per panelist, then questions from the responders.

7:07 pm — basic introductions so far from EMP folks and Eric W. Opening reception was very good fun as per usual, reacquainting with old friends and new.