Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Costa Rica

This week I'm focused on my moving this weekend, but last week I was in Costa Rica! I went with a group from work for a week of experiencing the rainforest, seeing our sustainability work in action, and training and talking about how to do our jobs better. More on the work side of it later.
We stayed at a hotel in the middle of the rainforest, along the Sarapiqui river. We visited farms and went on nature walks through the forest. We had long days, but there was also time to relax. There was a group yoga session with the sounds of the jungle coming through the screened walls, games of bananagrams and tropical drinks at the bar, and a mini rodeo thrown by the hotel.
Each meal was an opportunity to drink some new, deliciously fresh juice.
This was the view from the "conference room"
As we learned when we got caught unawares in the rain multiple times, you had better bring your raincoat everywhere just in case, because the hot sun can quickly turn into a downpour.
It even rained the afternoon we went ziplining! The course started out easy with baby ziplines but little did I know that I would end up zigzagging thousands of feet back and forth across a valley over a river, with branches and raindrops flying past my face and my breath focused on making it to the other side. Afterward, we went swimming in a stone pool in the middle of the forest. Standing in a circle in the water, still under the falling rain, we held hands and revelled in the specialness of the moment and our whole experience in Costa Rica.

Have you ever been to Costa Rica?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock, about two hours from Austin, is a half hour of moderate exertion 425 straight up the gradual sloping face of a pink granite rock. It was almost frighteningly windy at the top, as if I might be carried off into the sky. Aaron said on his last trip he saw a prickly pear cactus uprooted and flying through the air and that was when he knew to head back down. It was also a bit frightening in the pass below to imagine the plentiful rocks and boulders loosening from the steep hillside and falling into our path. But it was enchanting nonetheless to get a bit of exercise and work up an appetite for barbeque, to see Texas hill country spread out before us, and to picnic in the woods nestled in its base. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012


If you're not familiar with it, South by Southwest is a giant music festival that descends upon Austin each March. The constituency seems mostly to be New York hipsters and extremely drunk Texans. The streets were closed off and full of people in a way that was worse than I imagined (And even coming from crowded New York, it was nice to be able to escape to the quiet suburbs each night.) It is a little silly that I went from New York to vacation in Austin just to see many bands that I could see in New York normally, but the benefit was having a whole week just to enjoy lots of free music in good weather. However, now that I've been, I don't think it would be worth it for my band to go there in a future year - there's no guarantee that bands will get to play a show with an audience worth the 3,000 mile trip.

Cloud Nothings at Beauty Bar
Cloud Nothings were my surprise standout from the week. Just beforehand was Titus Andronicus, who I usually love, but they played too many new songs and the crowd wasn't into it. In contrast, Cloud Nothings had me captivated, even though I don't normally like my rock that hard. I think it was all the interesting drumwork. Their last song was so loud I had to cover my ears despite wearing earplugs.  (My ears really started to feel tired of the constant barrage of sound by later in the week.)

Yellow Ostrich at Hotel Vegas for the Brooklyn Vegan Showcase 
Yellow Ostrich initially captured my heart with his use of vocal looping and sentimental melodies. But now he's no longer solo, so there are no more vocal loops and the sound has changed to a full band rocking out, which is good, but in a different way. I'm going to see them play a full set in New York next week and will have more to say then.

Sharon Van Etten at the Mohawk
For a festival show, Sharon took way too long to set up - the same as for her New York show I saw in February, complete with multiple instruments for her and her keyboard/instrumentalist Heather. Even though I was impressed with the strength and clarity of her voice in February, and she proclaimed that she had lost her voice for this show in March, I still found that seeing her a second time around strengthened my impression of her live music. She continues to be what I call the indie world's strangely singular female singer songwriter darling. Where once there were many singer songwriter darlings two decades ago (Fiona Apple??), now there are only a few, Sharon being one of the biggest.

Deerhoof at ND
I don't normally like listening to Deerhoof with its jolting rhythms and high pitched yelps, but they put on a really energetic, enjoyable live show. The drummer accomplishes a lot with his minimal kit while the bassist jumps around cutely.

Tall Heights at Austin Java.
These are the boys who crashed at the same house as us during SXSW. They are a talented folk duo from Cambridge who combine their guitar, cello and vocal harmonies beautifully and I'm glad I got the chance to hear them. They got kind of shafted on this gig by being placed on an inside stage in a room that was hidden away instead of playing the outdoor cafe stage. That's one of the difficulties about going on tour - you have no idea what to expect from the venue you book.

Punch Brothers at Swan Dive
They seemed a bit frazzled by the situation, fresh off a plane into the SXSW madness and playing through a PA setup rather than letting the pure sounds of their acoustic instruments shine, but they stepped up and brought their good bluegrass energy.

Widowspeak at Red 7 outside. 
With languid vocals set against a steady rock beat, Widowspeak is lovely to listen to while laying around your living room but kind of a snoozefest live. I noticed that lead singer Molly has perfected the art of subtly half smiling while singing as if posing for photographs the whole time. Perhaps it would be behoove me to learn this too??

Drinking and musicking at Red 7 outside in March was blissful to a New Yorker like me, though I tired of Lonestar cans by the end of the week.

Best Coast at Urban Outfitters
I heard Best Coast from behind this fence, where people were dancing on dumpsters. I could just make out singer Bethany's face haloed in a braid. Her new songs didn't grab me, but I appreciated hearing her old songs "Boyfriend" and "I Want To" live, which many have scorned for their simplicity, but which grabbed me at the right time in my life last year with their brutal teenage-like honesty.

Bear in Heaven at the Mohawk 
The lead guy of Bear in Heaven has no idea how dumb he looks when he dances, but it made more of an impression on me than his electronica.

Our Brooklyn band friends The Vandelles made snap bracelettes for SXSW!

Me You Us Them! at The Grackle
These are our friends from Brooklyn. They sound like the Swirlies plus screamo. They only got to play three songs because they were late to this gig and set times during SXSW are insanely short so that thousands of bands can be packed in.

The Men at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop
Evan really likes these fellows, but they just sound like loud rock to me. Apparently, it's called post punk, but I can never keep that straight.

My bandmate actually drove down to SXSW last year in a many person van with the members of Beach Fossils. They sound pleasant like Real Estate but didn't make much of an impression on me.

Have you been to South by or heard of any of these bands?