The Show: You’re gonna love me

Oh, well, here we are again: Back with the Show, which isn’t the cultural powerhouse it was when it was The Show, but is a bunch better than it was in the years it fell to theshow status. And although there no longer are tryouts that involve 8 bajillion people filling football stadiums that somehow still produced off-key jokers in the Top 10, the regular judges’ brag this year about the depth of talent isn’t wrong.

I’m along for the ride again, of course; I usually go along, even though I don’t recall last year’s winner and can’t remember most of the champs for the last decade or so. This show and the others of its ilk don’t really produce pop stars any more; they produce game show winners who can sing, and it never seems to quite work out after that.

I’m thinking, though, that 2023 might be the year this changes. The country genre is particularly strong on the Show this year, and there are a couple of other performers I think I’d pay to see right now. There also are a couple of scenery chewers we’re all going to have to tolerate for a bit; that sort of performer always has been a pet peeve of mine, but a few of them turned out to be genuine stars after their Show appearances in past years, so perhaps I should keep my fool mouth shut.

Anyway, another year, another ride. I actually think this could turn out to create some good concert broadcasts — and not just some dramatic competition moments — in the weeks to come.

I’ve written dozens of posts about the show in its many iterations for years and years. You can browse through some of them here.

Smile because it happened

We recently returned from a week on Jost Van Dyke, a British Virgin Island that I’ve raved on about here before. This was our second full-week trip to Jost but the first since since hurricanes Irma and Maria, two Category 5 storms that hit within two weeks of each other in 2017. They flattened pretty much everything and created some changes.

The first thing that struck me upon looking out over White Bay after arriving this time was that things were browner than I remembered — a reality attributable in part to the hurricane and in part to being there late in the dry season. But the second fact that struck me was the amount of new construction going on.

Now, we’re not talking about mere reconstruction here, although a number of the island’s famous beach bars have been recast in concrete and rebar instead of the previous ramshackle wood. We’re talking about brand new construction that, in particular, is starting to fill the hillside behind White Bay, which is arguably one of the most famous beaches in the Caribbean. This is triggered in part by absentee property owners who sold out after the hurricanes. The new construction largely is, or will be, villas that will bring in more tourists on an island that is in many ways notable for its lack of tourists.

And then I reminded myself that I really had no right to gripe about the still-modest additional development. That’s when I reminded myself of the old saying: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

I got to see Jost when it was only lightly discovered, but nobody’s going to mistake the place for being hyper developed now, or probably any time in my lifetime. The old ways, with the characters staying at the campground at Ivan’s and the funky people hanging out at the funkier bars to the west of the Soggy, may be changing, but things always change. Too much nostalgia is always a trap — one that often leads to bitterness.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself on Jost again. It was just different, not wrong.

An Absolutely True Story

Speaking of Terrance Simien (and we just were), one of the songs his band covered last week was “500 Miles,” a ubiquitous folk song of the 1960s. He made it into a reggae song, which worked great, but it had been decades since I had heard it and it reminded me of this Absolutely True Story.

In second grade, I spontaneously decided I was a musician. In a spectacular bit of bad decision-making, my parents had picked up a secondhand department store parlor guitar and gave it to me. I walked around the house bashing on it and scream-singing, although I’d never taken a lesson or knew what a chord was or how to tune the thing. You want to know what sort of hell my parents went through? Imagine that scene, then imagine there were six other kids running around the house thinking up their own ways of making noise.

Now that I was a musician, I clearly needed a gig. I went to work on the nuns at my grade school, assuring them that I could indeed play the guitar and sing. I’m not quite sure how it came about — I must have laid it on pretty thick — but they gave way and set up an assembly with a hundred or so of my classmates in the audience.

I went out, performed a few songs (including “500 Miles”) by guitar-bashing and singing at the top of my lungs, noticed the nuns seemed somewhat perplexed/annoyed/amused, took my bow and got the hell off the stage. The guitar strings had barely stopped vibrating before I was given a sealed note to bring home to Mom and have her sign. I don’t recall how that all came out, so I must not have gotten in too much trouble. But the guitar mysteriously went away.

The real bug to learn, play and perform didn’t stick until I was in my early 20s, and I’ve subsequently spent decades performing out at a bar-band level. But it all started with that parlor guitar and that second-grade assembly.

A little of that bon temps rouler

Terrance Simien was my introduction to zydeco music. That would have been some time in the back half of the 1980s, when he and his band were closing a Little Rock street festival that my band had performed in hours earlier. I knew nothing about zydeco — I even wrongly pronounced the music as zy-DEC-oh instead of ZY-deh-coh — and I remember seeing him walk on stage with an accordion. Another band member wore what appeared to be a washboard on his chest. I was in my 20s at the time and I did not take these as good signs.

And then they ripped into it, and I looked down at my feet because they had apparently become disconnected from my central nervous system and started acting on their own. So did the feet of everyone around me, and I was swept away. Within a few months, I could tell you all about Buckwheat Zydeco and Clifton Chenier and Boozoo, that’s who. From there, I fell into all sorts of Louisiana music holes, which eventually led me to the first of several trips to my darlin’ New Orleans, where the music still flows.

But I never saw Simien in person again. I heard about him as the years went by, and I’m fairly sure he drifted up my way occasionally after I moved to the D.C. area, but I missed his shows for one reason or another.

That changed recently. We spent a weekend in and along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and I scored some tickets to see Simien at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. The theater is run by a nonprofit foundation and those folks have seriously good taste; Sonny Landreth, the Steel Wheels, Shemekia Copeland and Karla Bonoff are all showing up in upcoming weeks, along with some classical concerts, opera and even the Glenn Miller Orchestra (Miller has been dead for 68 years, FTR).

It’s always a crapshoot when you go to see the musicians you loved decades ago. Sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised; sometimes you feel kind of sorry for the poor husks performing on stage. In the worst cases, you feel like you’ve been conned.

But Simien and his band walked on stage, cut into their first song and my feet took off again. He’s never been a hyper-traditionalist and this night was no exception; the band did a couple of beautiful reggae songs, for example, and a memorable version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”

Two hours of party, many thrown beads, a second-line march through the audience and the appearance of a Grammy Award (really) later, Simien wrapped up with “Iko Iko,” a New Orleans standard that I’ve personally performed dozens and dozens of times with multiple bands. Simien sang his last Jacamo Fi Na Nae, the band blew the roof off the joint one last time, the lights came up and we all went home (or in our case, to the hotel across the street). But I got a reminder of why I love the man’s music, nearly 40 years after I first heard it.

About Secretariat

Today, I’m thinking about Secretariat, the thoroughbred that won the Triple Crown on this day in 1973. That’s only a vaguely familiar name to a lot of people now, but he was a stunning champion at a time when that still mattered. I remember his victories well — especially his Belmont Stakes triumph.

Horse racing today is not like horse racing in 1973. Online betting that keeps fans from the track, a decline in public interest overall, and a pile of corruption and horse deaths have turned the sport into a shell of what it once was. Heck, even in 1973, its popularity was on the fade. And then Secretariat came along.

I’d never heard of him until he won the Kentucky Derby, which is no surprise — I was a tween kid and I paid about as much attention to the ponies as you might suspect. But he broke the track record and sportscasters started talking about him in absolutely reverential terms, especially the rumpled old railbird types who obviously spent a lot of hours at the track. After he won the Preakness (also in record time), he was in position to be the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.

Now, to the 13-year-old that I was at the time, 25 years was unimaginably ancient history. I assumed no horse was going to get the Triple Crown in my lifetime — that the nature of racing appeared to have changed too much for this to happen any more. A number of horses had scored the first two legs of the Triple Crown in those preceding 25 years, but the very different nature of the Belmont — it is a mile and a half, a really long distance that doesn’t get used much — looked like too much for any horse that had already won two incredibly demanding races in the preceding five weeks.

But, hey, this was still definitely worth watching and everyone was talking about it, so the family tuned in to the race.

What happened was…well, unbelievable. I still can’t believe I witnessed it.

Secretariat just crushed…destroyed…humiliated the competition. He won by a record 31 lengths. Fields of this caliber don’t have horses that win by 31 lengths, or 21, or 11 or usually even four or five. But there was Secretariat, crossing the finish line so far ahead that he looked like he was having a solo training romp. He also set another record. Those three race records still stand today, nearly half a century later, despite all of the presumed advances in breeding and training (that mostly seem to have created much more fragile horses).

After this, I kept following the horses for a bit, as Seattle Slew and Affirmed also scored Triple Crowns. In my mid-20s, I became a proper racing fan, thanks to living within easy driving distance of the Oaklawn track in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It had a racing scene in the 1980s that looked like something Damon Runyon dreamed up. That interest faded for me after I moved away, but a little spark returned this year thanks to Rich Strike’s crazily improbable Kentucky Derby win.

I suspect Rich Strike will be beaten like a rented mule at the Belmont, but even if he comes through on Saturday, all it will do is remind me of Secretariat once again.

Want a little digestible geekiness about what makes a horse great? Read this excellent Wikipedia entry about Secretariat.