Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Heat Wave…and Mike Shinoda’s New CD Post Traumatic

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For much of the day, it was too hot for me to think.

We had a heat advisory for much of the day, in fact, so I am spending the evening somewhere air conditioned. (Thank goodness.) That way, I can think better, breathe better, and also rest a whole lot better.

Because of that, I can do what I’ve wanted to do for a few days now: discuss Mike Shinoda’s extraordinary album (or CD release, if you’d rather), POST TRAUMATIC, in greater depth than I used in my review at Amazon.

Why?

Well, as a musician, and as a grieving widow, I understand a good deal of what Mike Shinoda has done on his CD.

For those of you who don’t have any idea who Shinoda is, he is a musician, rapper, producer, and one of the surviving members of the alt-rock band Linkin Park. Last year, their lead singer, Chester Bennington, killed himself.

At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know much about Linkin Park’s music then, save perhaps “In the End.” So I’d heard Bennington’s voice — one of the more distinctive voices in rock, as he could go from very soft to very loud/screaming in what seemed like the drop of a hint — and had heard Shinoda rap, but not much else.

Since that time, I’ve listened extensively to four Linkin Park Albums, HYBRID THEORY (their debut, from 2000), METEORA (from 2003), MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT (2007), and ONE MORE LIGHT LIVE (2017). I’ve heard a number of songs I think are extraordinary, including “What I’ve Done,” “Battle Symphony,” “The Little Things Give You Away,” and “In Pieces.” These aren’t as bombastic as early Linkin Park songs, but they contain much heart and emotion and empathy, along with solid musicianship and interesting lyrics.

As a woodwind musician, I respond to excellent musicianship much more than I do to lyrics. (Though don’t get me wrong; I enjoy lyrics, too.) And I could tell the craftsmanship of how these songs were put together the first time I heard them.

So, yeah…”Numb” and “Crawling” are great, and there are all sorts of other songs that had a lot of airplay that are fine, too. But to me, “The Little Things Give Me Away” or “What I’ve Done” pack a huge emotional punch along with their craftsmanship and musicianship, so they’re probably my favorites of LP’s work. (At least, the work I’ve heard. I still have more albums to listen to, of course.)

Anyway, I told myself months ago that I’d buy Mike Shinoda’s CD when it came out. I knew it would be emotional, along with having good, solid musical underpinnings and of course the rapping Shinoda’s known for. (Any CD that’s named POST TRAUMATIC obviously know what it’s about, after all.)

The CD starts off with “Place to Start,” which deals with Shinoda’s sadness, frustration, incomprehension, and perhaps a bit of rage after Bennington’s suicide. Because all of a sudden, Shinoda’s in a place he never wanted to be. His bandmate is dead. And his group, LP, will not be the same without their lead singer, especially as Bennington had a huge range (like Chris Cornell) and the ability to sing any style required.

The suddenness and unexpected nature of Bennington’s death reminded me very much of what happened to my husband Michael. (Michael died of several heart attacks in one day, without warning, mind.) And Shinoda’s reaction to it reminded me very much of how I responded after Michael died; by incomprehension, numbness, anger, rage, sadness, frustration…and wondering how I’d ever manage to create again, considering Michael was my co-writer as well as my partner in life.

The next song, “Over Again,” deals with the run-up to the benefit concert LP did after Bennington’s death along with the aftermath for Shinoda personally. And the chorus, which says, “Sometimes, you don’t say goodbye once…instead you say goodbye over and over and over again, over and over and over again,” resonated very strongly with me.**

Other songs, including “About You” (featuring Blackbear), talk about how when you do finally manage to find a bit of peace, someone else brings up something that reminds you again about how you are grieving, and relates it back to the sudden death you have just endured. (“Even when it’s not about you, it’s still about you,” goes the verse. Yep. Ironic sometimes, and the literal truth other times. Works on every level.)

“Promises I Can’t Keep” and “Crossing a Line” both deal with the problem of how do you go on afterward. You need to do whatever you can, but you can’t do it the way you did before, and you may break promises even when you do your best, because your best alone is not what your best would’ve been with your creative partner (and you well know it). And to get to a new creative place, you may well need to cross a few lines…in Shinoda’s case, he has four other bandmates who have to be wondering about the future of Linkin Park every bit as much as Shinoda obviously is, and Shinoda seems rightfully worried that if he succeeds in his solo venture (as I sincerely hope he does; his message is powerful and his music is equally powerful), his bandmates won’t appreciate it much.

(I’m guessing they won’t have a problem with it, personally. But I can see why he’d be worried, sure.)

There are a few songs that are harder for me to handle than others, mind, because of the raw, emotional, and sometimes deeply profane lyricism. But that’s just another color in Shinoda’s palette, and I get it, artistically; this is what’s authentic to him, and as such, it works. And works very well.

In short, as I said at Amazon, POST TRAUMATIC is a heartbreakingly beautiful album. It goes through so many different emotions, moods, and feelings, all of which rang true to me. And the music itself is superb, with “Brooding” (an instrumental) probably my absolute favorite cut of all.

If you are grieving, if you’re a fan of alternative rock with electronic elements and rap mixed with solid musicianship and outstanding emotional lyricism, or if you’re a fan of Linkin Park, you need to hear this album.

Mind, you may not always like it, ’cause it’s a tough album to listen to due to its subject matter. But stick with it. It’s cathartic, raw, emotional, and real…and as such, it might be the most important album of 2018.

—–

**Edited to add: The dangers of writing when you’re tired got to me earlier. I mistyped the lyrics, and have now corrected them. (Sorry to all who read this sooner than I realized I needed to correct ’em, or read in their e-mail.) The error is mine alone.

 

 

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My Musical Journey (A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

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Folks, World Music Day is later this month, June 21st to be exact. And the folks at Collaboration with a Purpose decided to write about what music is, why it matters, and why we care about it in our own words.

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I’m a musician. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know this. I play the clarinet, the saxophone, and the oboe. I also compose music, though mostly for myself, and tend to think first in music, and only later in words.

I’ve played instruments since I was ten or eleven years old. Music always called to me. I loved the sound of a saxophone in particular, and remember telling my Mom that I would play that someday. (When my teacher in graduate school, Dr. Fought, said to me that the saxophone sounded the most like a human voice, I agreed with him. Perhaps that’s why I insisted I’d play it.) Whether it was someone like Clarence Clemons wailing away with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band or later, jazz musician Art Pepper’s clear and beautiful sound with advanced and interesting harmonic and rhythmic melodies (yes, you can have it all!), I was hooked.

So why did I end up on the oboe first, then?

I think they needed oboists, as it’s difficult to play well. (One of the common sayings, at least among musicians, about the oboe is that “it’s an ill wind that nobody blows good.”) And no one was going to tell me I couldn’t play a difficult instrument…that’s where psychology came into play, I suppose. (But I was only eleven, at most. You can see why this might appeal?)

I learned all sorts of things about the oboe. It has a beautiful sound if played well, a distinctive one, and for whatever reason, the sound I could get was a bit lower than most, tonally — this is very hard to explain in words, so bear with me — and a bit closer to the sound of an English horn, according to a few of my music teachers.

Personally, though, I think the reason my sound on the oboe was a little different was because I wanted to play the saxophone. And I wanted my oboe playing to be different, interesting, and memorable; I learned how to play jazz on the oboe, even, as there was one musical group — Oregon — that had a jazz oboist.

“But get to picking up the sax, Barb! That’s what we want to hear about…”

Yeah. Well, I wanted to play in jazz band. But they didn’t have arrangements for a jazz oboe player. And my band director, Mr. Stilley, believed that I could pick up the sax in a month or so. The school had an awful alto saxophone available to play; it was held together by string and tape. But I didn’t let this stop me, and I did indeed learn how to play the sax in a month as some of the skills I already had were transferable.

Then, I took up private lessons with two different instructors: one for the oboe, one for the sax. I found out quickly that the alto sax was the instrument most classical musicians play. Most of the good repertoire, including the Jacques Ibert Concertino da Camera and Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, was written for alto rather than tenor, baritone, or soprano saxophones. And of course I learned these pieces, along with one that later became one of my favorites, Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra.

I found that while I loved jazz, I loved classical even more. There were so many different ways to say things in classical music. From Robert Schumann’s Unfinished Symphony to Paul Hindemith’s Symphony for Band in B-flat, from Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (and it’s famous “Ode to Joy”), there were so many, many different ways music could be expressed.

And then, there was Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Bernstein, Brahms, and the one composer I sometimes loved, sometimes hated: Gustav Mahler. (Mahler’s music can be beautiful. It can make me laugh. And it can make me scratch my head and go, “What the Hell?”)

I listened to jazz, too. And pop music, as I found along the way that I rather liked the diverse influences Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and even Linkin Park brought to the table. (Linkin Park in particular was a very big surprise, as they combined some aleatoric elements along with rock-rap and solid music theory, with not one but two singers: the late Chester Bennington with his soulful voice that could turn to a scream in an instant and Mike Shinoda, who could rap or sing, depending on what was needed from him.) And Creed, too…something about them hit me, emotionally, and I understood why they became popular on the one hand quickly, and didn’t last on the other.

The best of music evokes emotion, no matter what genre you play or sing or hear. Whether it’s Alice in Chains’ “Rotten Apple” or Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days” or Linkin Park’s “In the End” (or, much later, “One More Light”), or the second movement of Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, or Elvis (my mother’s personal favorite, and for all his fame, a truly underrated emotional stylist), or Art Pepper’s flights of fancy while playing “Over the Rainbow,” it is all about emotion.

See, words can only take you so far. Music, with all its complexity, all its chords, all its harmony, all its rhythm, can take you much farther.

It’s because of that, and my own, personal journey, that I decided my hero and heroine in CHANGING FACES were both clarinetists and both would use music as a way to survive incredible pain. Because music can describe things words cannot, music is able to heal a great deal more than words.

And that, I think, is why World Music Day is so important.

So do let music heal you, or inspire you, or at least give you the soundtrack to whatever you’re doing/writing/learning at the time. And let me know what music you move to, in the comments!

Also, please go take a look at my fellow collaborators, who’ve also written interesting takes on the subject (links will be posted as they go up, as per usual):

Nicolle K. — Intro Post

Nicolle K. (coming soon)

Sadaf Siddiqi — “A Musical Tribute

Mylene Orillo

Sonyo Estavillo

My Teacher and Mentor, Tim Bell, dies at 75

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Folks, it is with profound sadness that I write this blog. Just yesterday, I wrote about how Tim Bell, my teacher and mentor for many years, was going to play very difficult and challenging parts for the Racine Concert Band on one rehearsal, and that I was sure he’d do well, after our normal first-chair clarinetist could not play due to an unexpected and unfortunate event.

And Tim did just that. He was brilliant on the Surinach. He was phenomenal on the Copland. And he sounded great on the other three pieces we played, too.

Then today, Tim died of a heart attack. He was seventy-five, and he lived the way he’d wanted to live, and he played music at a high level until the very end of his life. (All of that is good, and true, and real…but I wish I hadn’t had to write them just yet.)

Plus, Tim was the type of guy who’d do anything for anyone. (I’m so upset, I nearly wrote that the other way around. Tim would’ve laughed at that and told me not to worry about it, no doubt.)

After I started playing again in 2011, I reconnected with Tim. We played in the RCB together, though he almost always played clarinet and I almost always played the alto sax. (Note that I also play clarinet and oboe, and Tim played all the saxes plus clarinet and, I believe, a bit of flute. Though he didn’t necessarily feel confident with his flute playing.) And Tim knew what I was going through, as a too-young widow with health issues, and that I’d felt I’d wasted my time and wasted my talents.

Tim told me more than once that I hadn’t failed. No matter what it looked like, I hadn’t failed. I did what I could. I got my Master’s, against long odds. I found the right man and married him, again against long odds. And that so much had gone wrong, that so much had been difficult, that it was impossible for me to play for years after Michael died as I was too sad to even look at the instruments…well, Tim told me the important thing was to keep going, and keep doing. And that I still had the skills, and he was glad I was using them to my fullest.

Even last night, Tim told me I played well. As I was playing the second parts again, and most of the time no one cares when you play the second part, I was a little surprised. But if anyone could tell when I was playing and when I wasn’t, it would be Tim…he was my teacher for almost three years after I returned to get a Bachelor’s, and after I got it, for the rest of my life he was my admired mentor and friend.

(Yes, I told Tim he played well. He did, too. He sounded great, and he covered the parts he’d learned as if he’d been playing them all along. He was uncomfortable when I told him he played well, too, just saying a gruff “Thank you” and then turning the conversation aside. That was Tim’s way.)

Tim was a music educator, played jazz and classical music, and could do anything at all as a musician that was needed. He was smart, funny, sometimes acerbic, enjoyed going to have drinks after concerts with the band (whenever I went, I was always charmed by Tim and Tim’s stories, too; he had the best ones), and was a genuinely good and caring person.

Tim was full of life, and full of music. I thought the world of him, and enjoyed learning about music and life from him. He was a phenomenal teacher, who never forgot his students and always tried to encourage them, even years after he’d last seen them.

I don’t know of any better epitaph than that.

If you knew Tim, or want to talk about other admired mentors, teachers, or good friends who’ve passed on, go ahead and leave a comment. I’ll appreciate that. (And if anyone can come up with a good way to help Tim’s name and talents live on with the next generation of Southeastern Wisconsin’s musicians, I’d appreciate hearing that, too. Something has to be done.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 18, 2017 at 7:09 pm

Concerts and Life

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Folks, I’m preparing right now for a concert later this evening with the Racine Concert Band. We’re playing at 7 PM at Park High School in Racine, a joint concert with the Park High School band…and I have a few things to say about concerts and life.

First, sometimes you prepare for something, and it doesn’t happen. But that preparation is still a good thing to do, because it might help you down the line with something else.

In an immediate sense, we had this happen last night in our dress rehearsal with the RCB. Our first-chair clarinetist was unable to play for a very good reason, and her husband brought the folder in so someone else could play her parts.

So, what happened? One of the other clarinetists moved up to play the parts instead. That clarinetist is my former teacher from my college days, Tim Bell…if anyone can play a concert on one rehearsal, it’s Tim.

But Tim had prepared the second parts. He didn’t really want to move. And he would’ve preferred playing the parts he already had, with the first-chair player being healthy enough to play. (I think we all would prefer that, as the first-chair player is a beacon of light whenever she’s around.)

Still, he was called upon, and he answered the call. And he did very well. (Come to the concert tonight and see just how well he did, learning the parts in one rehearsal.)

Second, as is seen by what happened to the first-chair clarinetist, you can do everything in your power to do everything right, and something out of the blue happens so you can’t perform. This is incredibly frustrating, and it’s not easy to deal with whatsoever.

All you can do in such situations is your best. That seems trite to say, but it’s the absolute truth.

Right now, for the first-chair player, rest is what she needs. She’d rather be playing, but she can’t right now. So all she can do is rest, recover fully, and get back to being that positive presence she’s always been down the line.

That’s the winning strategy, now that life dealt her a bad hand. But because she’s a mature and thoughtful soul, she realizes that bad hand is temporary.

Third, while concerts are ephemeral, music itself isn’t. Music can last forever, even though the pieces we play will sound a little different every time we try, as we learn and change and grow and become wiser (and hopefully, just a bit better, too).

This is why music is important. The players may change, sometimes through no fault of their own. The pieces change, too. And the audiences definitely change, something no musician can ever predict…nor would we want to in advance, as that’s half the fun of playing, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Anyway, that’s why I think concerts are interesting. They are a microcosm of life, in their own weird way, and as such, the preparation for the actual event may — or may not — match what ends up happening.

But no matter what, the music will endure. And the Racine Concert Band shall do its best to play it with passion, vigor, and authenticity, later tonight at Park High School.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Mozart, and Persistence

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Folks, what comes to mind when you think about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Is it the fact that he was a gifted composer?

Is it that he was considered a virtuoso before the age of fifteen or so?

Is it that his father, Leopold, was also a composer and conductor?

Or is it that Mozart, like every other creative person on the face of this Earth (past or present), had to struggle at times, and not everyone liked what he was doing, or cared about it either?

Yes, Mozart was famous during his own lifetime. But he had struggles, too. (My conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, pointed this out earlier this evening during his remarks.) For example, Mozart desperately wanted to break into the Paris opera scene; it was considered the “happening place,” back in the 1770s or so, and every composer who was anyone wanted to be known there.

So, he went to Paris. Taught some students, probably played some gigs here and there (as Mozart played any number of instruments, though he was known most for strings and piano), and managed to get a gig composing an overture for a ballet, “La Petite Riens.” (We played this piece tonight, hence Mr. Eichner’s remarks about Mozart. But I digress.) He thought that this would be his big break, as anyone who heard his music tended to adore it…but when he read the papers the next day after the ballet was premiered, he found out that his name wasn’t mentioned in the review. Nor was it mentioned in the concert’s program…

Yes, even W. A. Mozart could get treated badly, folks.

Anyway, the point here is that Mozart didn’t give up on his dreams after this setback. (It must’ve really smarted, too, considering.) He kept going. While it must’ve felt like a retreat, he went back to Germany, then to Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, and did what he needed to do in order to get his music played and published.

It may seem odd, that Mozart — the great Mozart — ran into problems. (This wasn’t his only problem, mind. He suffered money woes, health problems, problems with his kids and their health, difficulties with his wife’s family, and goodness knows what else.) But he was a human being, and as such, he had to deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” like anyone else.

And it’s not like the man couldn’t compose. Anyone who’s heard any of his symphonies, or better yet, any of “The Magic Flute” (perhaps his best-known opera), knows that Mozart was an incredibly gifted and prolific composer…the large amount of music Mozart left behind, considering he died before the age of forty, testifies to that.

So, if you’ve run into problems with your creative pursuits, because you don’t think anyone cares, or you wonder what the point is, or you even wonder why you try so hard for so little of a result, remember what happened to Mozart.

Whatever has gone wrong this time, it is temporary. It doesn’t have to stop you if you refuse to let it do so.

So, remember this story…and don’t give up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 31, 2017 at 12:08 am

Concert Over…

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Folks, I’m glad to report that I played my sax solo reasonably well last night, and the preparation that went into that worked out.

I am mostly writing this follow-up blog because of a comment I received from a fellow musician on Facebook. He isn’t aware of all of the various issues that went into me playing this solo, or even wanting to play a solo at all, and that reminded me that not everyone has read my blog for years.

And if you haven’t, you’re maybe not going to know exactly what did go into the persistent effort to play well enough to ask for a solo…much less anything else.

For longtime blog readers, this is going to be old hat to you, so if you want to skip over this post, feel free…but for the rest of you, here we go.

When my husband died in 2004, I was so devastated, I wasn’t able to do much of anything for years. Because I’d already been battling carpal tunnel syndrome (or what I thought was that, at the time), my hands became so stiff and sore, they were almost unusable — at least, when it came to playing a musical instrument. (I could still type, with effort, but I also saw problems even there.)

Then, for several years, I just didn’t play. I looked at my instruments, and grew frustrated; I’d gone through so much to get my two degrees, and now, I couldn’t do anything whatsoever?

In 2011, I finally felt able to talk with my old band director, Mark Eichner. He was still at UW-Parkside, and hadn’t yet retired; he told me when the Parkside Community Band was going to start rehearsing for their winter concert, and so, I rejoined the band. I played a solo there, within the band rather than standing up in front of it (as I did yesterday), which was difficult but worthwhile.

And not long after that, in 2012, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band as a saxophonist. They needed someone to play the second part, you see…and occasionally, I could play tenor sax or clarinet as needed. I knew playing every week in the summer, where I’d battle against my asthma as well as my hand issues, was going to be a challenge, but I appreciated being able to play again.

In a way, it took a few more years for my ego as a musician to reassert itself. (Ego is not necessarily a bad thing, mind.) By this point, I wanted to play a solo. So I asked for one, preferably on clarinet.

My conductor (again Mark Eichner, who also conducts the RCB) gave me a sax solo instead.

Note that my friend Vivian is the saxophone section leader. I’ve known Vivian for years. She’s a great person, she plays well, and she makes going to rehearsal fun. I did ask her if she had any problem whatsoever with me wanting to play a solo, and she basically said, “Of course not. Don’t be silly!”

(And she was the first person to congratulate me, too, last night. Just saying.)

So, I hope that fills in a few blanks.

As for why I said things the way I did before? It’s because I am a human being, fallible and mortal, and I really do struggle sometimes depending on what types of parts are written for the sax. (Many times, Vivian doesn’t have a good part, either. Nor does any other sax player in the section. It really depends on the arranger how well the sax section is used and/or exploited.) I have an easier time playing second clarinet or even third clarinet than I do second alto sax, because the clarinet parts in a band are based off the violin part in an orchestra — meaning that usually those parts are more interesting, or at least can be, than the second alto part. (And oft-times, they’re more interesting in my opinion than the first alto part, too. But that’s probably just me.)

I’m glad I feel well enough to play, and that I was able to do a good job last night. (And that my section leader, Vivian, puts up with me. Because I’m like anyone else — sometimes I can be a major pain in the buttinsky.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 17, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Concert Prep for Sax Solo, 7/16/17

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Folks, a while back I wrote a blog about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t seem to do what I used to do, as a musical performer. I’ve mostly played the second part, since I started playing again five or six years ago, and that’s really tough on the ego; furthermore, because they’re lower parts that mostly blend in, only the other musicians and the conductor tend to even know I’m there at all.

I was always a soloist, you see. Trained as an oboist, played in bands and orchestras, had musical scholarships, then picked up the saxophone in high school because I wanted to play in jazz band. I picked up the clarinet as a senior in high school because I wanted to play the doubled parts in jazz band (sometimes, the sax parts also have a small clarinet part, where you “double” during the piece and play both instruments), and in every case, I ended up playing more solo parts than anything else.

So, to go from first chair anything to second parts has been very difficult. And while “we also serve who stand and wait” (only slightly mangling that phrase), I like playing things that actually showcase my abilities now and again.

Fortunately, when I asked my conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, for a solo, he gave me one. And I’m playing it tomorrow, on July 16, 2017…the first solo where I’ve stood before the band that I’ve played in twenty-one years.

What’s the piece, you ask? It’s Isaac Albeniz’s “Tango,” for alto saxophone soloist and band. (Yes, it’s an arrangement. But it works.)

I’m not the only soloist tomorrow, mind you. Eric Weiss, a very fine trumpeter, will be playing Clifton Williams’s “Dramatic Essay.” And a master illusionist, Pinkerton Xyloma, will be also helping to entertain the crowd during four of our band pieces.

So, since I put “concert prep” in the title, you might be wondering what that entails. (I hope so, ’cause I’m going to tell you anyway.)

Mostly, what preparation means, in this case, is to be prepared to play the piece. This includes physical preparation (repetition, playing it many times), mental preparation, trying to get rest, eating well, and also trying not to stress out over it all.

And I have done all of this.

My hope is that if you live in Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, that you’ll come down to the Racine Zoo tomorrow night and hear the band play. It’s a free concert; the show starts at 7:30 p.m., but the doors open about an hour ahead of time. (Park on August Street, or on Goold. The main doors are not open for the Zoo during RCB performances.)

If you do, be sure to listen hard to my solo, and come up and say “hello.”

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm