Tag Archives: Columbus

Comfest diary

I was 15 or 16 years old the first time that I went to Comfest. It was the Reagan ’80s, in a town perceived to be middling-to-conservative, in a generation that wasn’t supposed to care about anything. And yet here was a place where, for one weekend, you could find all kinds of politics and countercultures and live music and radical buttered corn and people who delighted in being odd. It was beautiful. It still is… now with value-added naked painted breasts!

Last year, Comfest was emotional and strange for me. It was the year when people approached me gingerly to ask me how my husband was doing in the final days before he was to close his business of nearly 20 years. The festival gave him its first “Patron of the Arts” medal for his many years of giving local musicians a stage. I got my brain picked by some gossips and some voyeurs and some armchair concert promoters who figured his club’s closing was always coming because they felt they understood his business better than he did all along. (Truly, he might as well have been working in politics, because there is at least one Bill O’Reilly/Keith Olberman-style pundit of music promotion for every square block of this city.)

But there were also people who came to me with tears in their eyes, sorry for our loss, sorry for the community’s loss and concerned for our family. And then there were a few who came to Dan directly when I was with him to say thank you and I’m sorry, whose faces puzzled as they met Declan and I and realized that Dan wasn’t walking off into some rock-and-roll bachelor’s retirement, but an uncertain future with a wife and two-year-old.

This past year has been hard. We moved to a part of town where we don’t know many people, a few months before the nexus of our social lives was cut away – some elements of our social lives had already peeled off as we eliminated alcohol from our menus and became parents . Dan jokes that we’ve been in the witness relocation program.

Who still calls and who doesn’t has been illuminating, now that there are no gigs or free concert tickets or drinks on the house that may result from friendship with us. Once you get past the sadness of that, it’s kind of liberating. Our lives aren’t any more certain now, but I do think that we’ve become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Comfest has this reunion quality for those of us who have lived in the local counterculture for a long time, and this weekend, it’s reminded me how lucky we are. I’ve watched my son worship and be adored by several of Dan’s closest friends. They are an oddball bunch. Less the cynics and know-it-alls so closely associated with the image the club had than men and women who do T’ai Chi and watch sports and read and play brilliant music and meditate and dance like maniacs and laugh really loud and have a soul love of music and volunteering and Declan. As he splashed through mud puddles and danced, they praised his spirit and his smoochable, nom-able cheeks.

And then there are the new vistas that this blog has opened up for me. On Friday, I found and met Amy of Dooblehvay selling her elegantly crafted and playful wares in the street fair. I also connected with his family for a few sweet moments on the street. They are longtime friends of ours (his wife worked for Dan for many years) and their daughter Sophie is awesomely fun. I love that being online lets us better keep up with their lives.

And while Friday was a little rough on us because Declan didn’t get the nap he clearly needed, we had a few wonderful moments. He sat in his stroller and ate fruit and I sat on the curb facing him as he gesticulated and said “now.. how can I explain the Big Bang? Well…” Later, he nestled his face through tree leaves as he talked to the sweetest grandmother and granddaughter, who were dressed in matching fairy outfits, carrying anti-war canvas bags.

Our arrival yesterday was peculiar, as I found a sharp knife sticking in the ground near the pond that I picked up and gave to a volunteer to dispose of. That alarming discovery was quickly brushed off by a welcome from a large group of young and old people greeting festival-goers with handmade signs that said “Free Hugs,” so Declan and I each took one. This year, there seem to be a few families freestyling the message and spirit of the festival in increasingly adorable ways. (This year, the shirts say “Be the change.”)

A major storm hit by Dan’s third song with his band The Wahoos, but they played right through it, to an enthusiastic group of puddle-splashing dancers. Luckily for Declan, they performed his two space-themed songs first. In the aftermath of the rain, Declan splashed about with a group of fun kids during the Mendelsonics‘ set, and we had to drag him, literally kicking and screaming and unbelievably muddy, back home. And while the time once was that we’d be there until the park closed, moving on to Dan’s club afterwards, it felt good to leave as the drunkenness ramped up and come home to clean up and settle down together.

This morning, Declan told me that he caught a rainbow between his fingers. (It was the city’s Pride celebratio
n yesterday too, so rainbows have been everywhere.) He put in his hair, then mine, then daddy’s. And it stormed for a few moments this morning, but the sun seems to be out for now, and so, as crispy as we are, we’re getting ready to go for the last day, where we’ll see a little of them, and a lot of her, among other things. If it rains, we’ll probably just get wet.

Dan will be on Curt Schieber’s Invisible Hits Hour on CD101 from the site at 9 p.m. as it closes (Dan’s been his traditional Comfest wrap-up guest for the past few years).

Happy Comfest.

Related Posts:

The house shook, the perp was caught…

I thought a serial killer was being apprehended in my usually quiet neighborhood late on Saturday morning. There were helicopters swooping up and down the block, and about a dozen police cars on the street.

It seems that a man was trying to break into a house that is for sale, but that happens to still be owned by a member of the local police force. The neighbors spotted him as he tried to wriggle his way into a basement window.

Dan went out to see what was happening. His chat with the neighbors went something like this:

Dan: So what happened?
Neighbor #1: Someone was trying to break into that house, which is owned by a police officer.
Dan: In the middle of the day?
Neighbor #2: That’s when break-ins happen. They do it during the day, when no one is home.
Neighbor #1: Uh, people are usually home on Saturday.

The men laughed. Then a police officer drove his cruiser the wrong way down our one way street, and several of his colleagues laughed and jeered.

What a jovial crime scene!

When I was just a baby bird of a reporter, I used to dig through high stacks of downtown police reports for a local rag in order to write a column about dumb and bizarre crimes on these fair streets of Columbus.

Ah, Naked City, you’ve returned to me.

Related Posts:

Child helps journalist

Here is a story that I wrote for Columbus Alive this week.

Declan helped.

Not because he is a particularly good editor or writer at two and a half, but because he makes me think about the nature of the universe as well as its incomprehensible size — things that can come in handy when you’re writing about art. In this case, keeping up with his interest in spatial dimensions and string theory directly applied to the wonderful work and artist that I wrote about.

I consider some of the abstract concepts in galleries, community centers and museums on a fairly regular basis. In print, I try to make them less intimidating to people, to help them see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that art can raise. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Growing up, I always considered science, especially physics, to be too large and logical for the likes of someone like me. But Declan has helped me see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that astrophysics can raise and how, much in the way that you don’t have to be a critic to appreciate art, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the cosmos.

Life soundtrack: The Posies, “I Am the Cosmos”: Launch

Related Posts:

More on urban school reform

I’ve spent the last couple of days with my passionate and inspiring colleagues from the KnowledgeWorks storytelling project. At long last, our publications about early college and small school reform are out.

They are available to download online, or you can request free hard copies of one or both. Last year, our work won an award from the Council on Foundations. I have pieces in both of this year’s publications.

Related Posts:

Don’ts and dos of running a “family” festival

We decided to brave the city-sponsored “Family Fun Fest” on the waterfront over the weekend. We ran into a couple of people we knew who were leaving as we arrived and asked them how they had liked the event. Their response? “It’s kind of… a mess.”

And it was. I wonder why events supposedly designed for families with children are so often unoriginal, even a bit unfriendly towards the audience they seek? When corporations decide to sponsor these events and have an on-site presence, is their goal to actually offer a fun experience for kids, or simply to dole out logo-covered junk? If it isn’t the former, it should be. Your frisbee may or may not give me a lot of joy, but providing an authentically fun memory for me and my child will. You may not think so, but the experience is more important than stuff. And if you give me a bad one, I’m really really going to remember that.

Here is my free advice:

Rule #1
DON’T hold these events without providing a space or fun activity specifically for children under the age of five. Things that they are supposed to sit still and watch don’t count, because people under five, who are often members of families, are generally incapable of sitting still for very long. If you can’t do this, advertise that the event is for kids of a higher age.

DO come up with something specifically designed to engage the youngest people. It’s not hard. Throw down a big mat inside of some gates with some colorful pillows and balls. Get some bigger kids to volunteer to play with the little ones, because no one loves big kids as much as little ones do.

P.S. While you’re at it, make sure you also provide a space for nursing moms and babies. A tent with a few changing tables and rocking chairs will do. This isn’t progressive, it’s just logical and babies, it should be noted, are also often members of families.

Rule #2
DON’T give kids pre-drawn pictures to color. Or at least not only pre-drawn pictures to color.

DO try and inspire them to come up with some ideas on their own. Instead of giving something you think is “fun” laid out in factory form, give them a blank page and ask them to draw something they think is fun. Then praise their brilliance and ingenuity. A big open patch of road where kids could draw whatever they wanted with sidewalk chalk was one of the best things at the festival.

Rule #3
DON’T put any giveaway items out in public view that you do not actually intend to give away. This should be your rule at every event, but when children are the ones you are marketing to, the penalties for breaking this rule double.

DO try and make sure that the people who work at your booth like children and parents, and put them on in shifts, so that they aren’t worn out and disgusted by everyone as it gets later in the day.

Note: When we visited tent for the Columbus Crew – a soccer franchise that isn’t exactly burning up the ticket lines – the woman in it actually pulled a bunch of small soccer balls off of the table when Dan approached, saying “sorry, we’re putting these away, we have to save them for other events.” I’m only grateful that my two-year-old and I were far enough from the table that he didn’t quite clue into the fact that he was being denied a cheap promotional ball, especially since balls, spheres or globes are the most important things on earth. A toddler meltdown was narrowly averted by our parenting reflexes and the fact that he had a healthy nap that day. Bad form, Crew!

Rule #4
DON’T insist on having those infernal bouncy contraptions at every single event where kids may show up. If your goal is for a family to have fun together, this doesn’t cut it. It’s just a dangerous, temporary babysitter. But if you have to have it…

DO make sure that who ever runs the thing does so in shifts with big kids and little kids, or make sure that there are two of them – one for big kids and one for small ones, because small ones can get seriously knocked around just being in the proximity of a fourth-grade jumper. At least put the thing somewhere far enough away from the center of the event that it’s not there, torturing the children of parents who don’t want to either pay $1 for every three minutes of jumping or to watch their child narrowly avert death with every 11-year-old you allow in there with them.

Really, it would be better just to hire more strolling performers. Musicians, clowns, whatever. Seriously!

Rule #5
DON’T think of a family festival the same way you would think about a county fair or an amusement park.

DO try and be creative and considerate of your audience. Parents are dying for more events where the objective isn’t just a bald-faced sales pitch for stores and services. If you’re a corporation, consult educators about the activities and gear you provide.

What would you add?

Life soundtrack: Sly and the Family Stone, Anthology, “Family Affair”
Sly and the Family Stone - Anthology - Family Affair

Related Posts:

West Side Story, Chapter 2

I got stuck in an automatic car wash on West Broad Street* two days ago. I input the code numbers to make it go, the thing pulled me in about 20 feet, then stopped. Trapped in the somewhat foreign space of my stepfather’s Crown Victoria, I watched the spindle of fat, soapy rags twirl through an entire cycle and realized that I couldn’t take the keys out of the ignition without putting the car in park. Being on a track that demanded the car stay in neutral, this didn’t seem like the smart choice. Instead, I chose to lean on the horn like the most annoying person who ever lived and hoped that my oil-stained white knight would arrive soon.

My mother called me on my cell phone at that moment. Learning of my peril while listening to me beep for several minutes without getting any response, she serenaded me with, “Did she ever return? No, she never returned, and her fate is still unlearned/Though for years there were fond hearts watching/for the little girl stuck in the car wash who never returned.”

She tried to call the BP station for me while I kept on honking, and after about 10 minutes, a young man finally showed up to help. After a series of “turn the wheel this way” and “hit the gas!” instructions, I wound up safely back in the right place and miraculously, without any scratches on the car. He sent me back though with an upgraded car wash, which is apparently more expensive because you get to sit there and watch yourself get encased inside of a rainbow of sherbet-colored foam instead of plain white soap.

Yesterday, on the same stretch of road, I stopped at a traffic light close to the outerbelt, right at the moment that an ambulance and firetruck pulled over to examine a person lying on ground beside the offramp. I saw an EMT pick up one of the person’s arms and drop it. As it flopped to the ground, I decided that I would add an errand or two to my trip, which had been to simply ship a camcorder back to Canon that they have now failed to fix twice. I didn’t find anything about this person in the paper today, so I’m hoping that means the man or woman (I couldn’t tell which) is okay, or recovering from whatever happened somewhere.

When I finally drove home, I soaked in the friendly sight of Westgate’s neighborly-looking streets. A young woman in a ruffled blue shirt and spectacles walked a three-legged dog in front of these 1940s homes, where canna and petunias and sunflowers are embroidered into the landscape. There is enough obvious house pride around here to keep us feeling the peer pressure to weed and fix our crumbling front step. As commercial or institutional as West Broad Street can feel, Westgate is equally welcoming.

Dan keeps joking that living on the West side is like being in the witness relocation program. In our old quarters, closer to North High Street*, he couldn’t walk ten feet without bumping into some musician, artist, know-it-all, music fan, cult of personality or new or old friend. I have run into someone I know out in the neighborhood (in this case, at the hardware store) exactly once since we moved here last November. Dan, of course, has run into a few more, but nowhere near the level he did around our old stomping ground.

This is probably a blessing this summer, because we certainly can’t go to a festival or music event without his experiencing some degree of interrogation about what happened to Little Brother’s and what he’s planning to do next. Around the closing, it was very touching when so many people said “I’m so sorry,” and a few people actually cried about losing the club, or because they hurt for us, knowing that despite Dan’s veteran status as a music man, our life as a family is very new and financial instability is scary. It is touching, but exhausting.

For the sake of trying to figure out how we are going to rebalance our lives, it’s good to get stuck in a West Broad Street car wash.

* For those not familiar with Columbus, West Broad Street is the primary east-west road that runs through Columbus, while High Street is its North-South counterpart. The two street intersect in the center of Downtown, where the Ohio Statehouse is located.

Life soundtrack
: Doc Watson, My Old Country Home, “The Ship That Never Returned”
Doc Watson - My Dear Old Southern Hom - The Ship That Never Returned

Related Posts:

The search for E.T.

I had no idea that Columbus was home to an influential scientist in the search for intelligent life. (The comments tied to this story are a scream.) Too bad that this man is leaving, he might have found an acolyte in Declan.

I’ve run SETI at Home on my computers for years. You should too!

Life soundtrack: David Bowie, Hunky Dory, “Life on Mars”
David Bowie - Hunky Dory - Life On Mars?

Related Posts:

Clearing out

Its been a week since the final night that Little Brother’s was open. Dan and a few other folks have been busy clearing out the place, which has to be vacated by this weekend. They’ve been organizing a yard sale and silent auction, which has me wondering which things we should keep for Declan‘s teenage bedroom wall.

Those last couple of days were amazing, though. The outpouring of support and thanks for Dan was unbelievable. I posted many of the memories we’ve received through email all over the bar, and people wrote more in a couple of books my mom bought for the occasion, even wrote new ones on bar napkins and stuck them to the wall.

Despite some trickiness surrounding the fireworks, Dan had a great, cathartic set with his band the Wahoos, and Declan helped provide the finale. At the end of their cover of “The Weight” by the band, Declan and I walked in the side door and I put him up on the stage. When the band started playing exit music, Declan started dancing toward his dad, and Dan danced back, finally scooping him up in a hug as the crowd went nuts. That was all it took for Dec to be sold on a brief career in entertainment; he went back out on the stage in front of the crowd several times and danced while people cheered for him. The band started an encore and Declan became more and more distraught as he tried to get Dan’s attention, finally flinging himself back into my arms so I could take him back outside. It took him no time to recompose himself and ask, “more dancing?” But the set was officially over.

Old friends Ned and Roddy Wreckman played a wonderful, fun set that I could hear wafting outside as I settled Declan to sleep in the car, waiting out the Red White and Boom traffic. But the last act didn’t show up and gave no warning that they would bail, so none of the dozens of local musicians in the crowd really had time to work up something to fill the gap. It was disappointing, but a little fitting. The last hour or so that the club was open, the stage was empty. It’s just a reminder that as nourishing and invigorating as music can be, it can also breed dysfunction and a kind of selfishness that most of us, as fans, forgive easily. Dan forgives pretty easily too (many would say too easily for a businessman)

The next day, the Doo Dah’s Unband gathered at Little Brother’s for the last time. Dan walked alongside a coffin scrawled with “Little Brother’s R.I.P.” pounding on a drum inside and carrying a wooden musical note. About halfway through, Declan and I joined him. Lots of people yelled “thank you Dan!” from the street side. Periodically, the Unband would stop and Dan would die in the middle of the road, a group of women keening around him until he was resurrected (they took this so seriously it was hysterical – pictured on the right). At one point, I asked Declan to give his daddy the black musical note before they pulled the shroud over him. Just when it seemed he wasn’t going to do it, he walked over and handed it to him, but damn it all, I couldn’t get my digital camera to shoot quickly enough to catch that moment.

All in all, these were a really happy couple of days, with Dan feeling like Tom Sawyer – a pirate at his own funeral. When people asked how he was, the standard answer was “great today, ask me in a about a week.”

I’ve been through more than my fair share of job losses, including at least one that I had my sense of personal identity all wrapped up in, but that was a breath, compared to Dan’s almost 20 years. I am hopeful that the better part of his history will help him find something else to do that allows him to be himself.

It certainly was surreal on Saturday night as we drove past Downtown and saw all of the traffic on the cap over 670, briefly wondering about the size of the crowd at the club, then remembering that there wasn’t one.

Life soundtrack: Freedy Johnson, Can You Fly, “Tearing Down This Place” Freedy Johnston - Can You Fly - Tearing Down This Place

Related Posts: