Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Woodstock Redux at Bethel Woods: Here to stay or gone forever?

Many people believe that Woodstock took place in the town of Woodstock in Ulster County, New York. It didn’t. It was supposed to, but Woodstock, New York would have nothing to do with this enormous kermesse of hippies, yippies and various hangers-on. So the organizers went out and searched for another venue… and eventually found Yazgur’s Farm in Bethel, New York, many miles away, near Monticello in Sullivan County.

The site of the original Woodstock, as it looks today at Bethel Woods

The rest is history, or at least partially history, and a good deal of myth. If it were truly history we might also know that the area around Monticello has gone through a downward spiral economically that has closed all of the big hotels that once thrived in this area. The myth gives us an image of Yazgur’s Farm as some kind of Garden of Eden in the Catskills.

the museum and hall

But myth is important, and powerful too, and it was the power of that myth and the energy that it inspired that led to the rebirth of the Woodstock venue in recent years, as Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a vast, mostly open air celebration of contemporary music, arts and crafts. It includes a museum, and crafts market and conducts outreach and educational programs for the community.

The grounds are immaculately landscaped, the stage modern, acoustic and huge, the seats comfortable, the lawn pristine. And unlike the original Woodstock there are ample food stands, parking, and toilet facilities. On a recent night to see the Goo Goo Dolls, the place was full of happy concert goers on lawn chairs or seated on rocks or on cushioned seats, and the place was rocking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly full, and a few nights later for Janet Jackson, it was still not sold out.

The modern stage and open air amphitheater

Has the damage to tourism in Monticello already been so complete that even Janet Jackson can’t draw a capacity crowd to a state-of-the-art open air venue in mid-summer?

There have been other attempts to revive tourism in this area of the lower western tier of New York State. Proposals have been drawn up to rebuild the Concord Hotel and to build new facilities for horse racing. However, these projects have been stalled by the lack of funding and proven marketability. Now a new nemesis has arisen: the introduction of fracking. This controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale strata below the ground dangerously close to the water table has split the local community. Some farmers who are now barely subsisting on their hard labors have been offered big bucks by oil companies to allow fracking on their property. They may be concerned about the possibilities of potential environmental problems in the future, but they are also concerned about putting food in the mouths of their children and paying their mortgages today. It is inevitable that some of them will be forced to take the money and allow the practice. Thus, the question mark of how this industrial activity will impact Sullivan County and its hopes for a touristic revival. Fracking is done along the Marcellus Shale Formation which extends through much o Appalachia. It has already had disastrous effects elsewhere where it has been loosely regulated and applied in an exploitative way by unscrupulous businesses. New York State hopes to regulate the activity and limit it to “safer” areas. It has its proponents, too, even among environmentalists who point to the possibility of safe methods. In addition, it should be noted that New York’s energy plan needs to find new resources to replace the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City (for which it provides up to 30 percent of the electricity), and fracking could help.

The Goo Goo Dolls in concert

The area is at the crossroads between revived tourism and industrial development. But could what appears to be diametrically opposed futures actually come together to lead to future prosperity? If the fracking can be closely monitored, learning from the mistakes in other states, and the large corporations that inevitably get involved can be required to help with touristic development, perhaps some kind of symbiosis can be achieved. That may be a new myth, but one worth striving to make reality.

Click the link to Bethel Woods.


August 10, 2011 Posted by | concerts, music, performances | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marco Mengoni, Malika and Noemi the real winners at Sanremo 2010

Never mind which teenage heartthrob from the reality show circuit won the actual physical prizes, and don’t give any more attention to the faux victims, Pupo and the Prince – the standout performances at the 2010 Sanremo Festival were from Marco Mengoni, Malika Ayane, Noemi, Nina Zilli and Irene Grandi.

However, an unexpected and strange dynamic occurred in both the main and the secondary category with acts that appealed mainly to teenaged girls doing surprisingly well. (X Factor and Amici are the reality tv shows roughly equivalent to “American Idol” or “Star Academy,” etc. in other countries.)

When the three finalists for the main category of “Grandi” were announced, they included the over-the-top and suspiciously monarchist “Italia, amore mio,” written and performed in part by none other than Emanuele Filiberto of Savoia, the theoretical crown prince of Italy. This song caused endless discussion but a far more important issue was something else: the potentially disruptive fact that the festival was in danger of turning into a subsidiary of X Factor and Amici.

Marco Mengoni

The other two finalists were veterans of those other shows. One of them was Marco Mengoni with his excellent performance and innovative song. The other was from the absolute other end of the range of quality, a mediocre song with inane lyrics performed with bare technique by a young man clearly in over his head. There were three or four other excellent performances in the competition on a par with Mengoni’s, and it surprised everyone that singers like Malika Ayane and Noemi and Irene Grandi had been excluded. But the real surprise was still to come, when that other singer, an alumnus of Amici,  Valerio Scanu, won the top prize. The only reasonable explanation was that the internet campaign in his favor by his teenaged Amici following had been far more successful than anyone could have anticipated.

Similarly, in the “New Generation” category, the X Factor advantage was almost certainly a boost to help push Tony Maiello past Nina Zilli and the other contestants. In his case, however, one could argue that the doe-faced winner gave a credible performance with a good song. His victory did not cause controversy when it was announced on Friday evening, but then it unfortunately seemed to lose credibility when Scanu’s victory was announced on Saturday. What had begun as a revitalized festival had turned into a parody of itself, and the unusually vociferous dismay of the shouting audience in the theater and the protests of the orchestra musicians (who took to crumpling their sheet music and throwing it onto the stage) gave ample expression to the disappointment. The protests of the audience were probably, at least in part, due to the presence in the top three of the kitschy patriotic song presented by Pupo, Emanuele and the tenor Luca Canonici. But as the two drama queens, Pupo and the Prince, continued to cast themselves as the focus of all this controversy, they managed to obscure the real issue: the protests of the orchestra were almost certainly provoked by the exclusion of the best singers from the finalists.

Some Highlights: Unfortunately, the You Tube videos of these performances have been blocked by la RAI. 😦


Malika Ayane

Malika Ayane: She did well in last year’s contest, with her song “Come foglie,” but her return this year with “Ricomincio da qui” really proved her great ability and classic style. She held a certain appeal for being the most traditionally chic of the female contestants, but that doesn’t take anything away from her beautiful performance, which might remind some listeners of Ornella Vanoni.

Marco Mengoni: After his performance on the first evening, it is said that he received calls of congratulations from Mina and Adriano Celentano, both legends of Italian music. The call from Mina is particularly understandable, given that Marco’s style seems to be a re-interpretation of some of Mina’s stylistic trademarks. Yes, he is also a veteran of X Factor: he won, in fact. But he didn’t need (and apparently didn’t get much of) a boost from the starstruck teenage girls who seemed to prefer the non-threatening boyishness of other candidates.

Noemi at Sanremo

Of the other performances, Noemi (another X Factor veteran) and Irene Grandi were excellent, with powerful interpretations of quality songs.

Nino D’Angelo and Maria Nazionale sang “Yammo Ya,” in Neapolitan dialect. The song was good and was the opportunity for discussion about the role of dialect at Sanremo. Unfortunately, there isn’t much. It is difficult to imagine Lombards voted for something in Neapolitan dialect or Calabrians voting for something in Friulano. The song was out on the first night, and the debate was not advanced much by D’Angelo’s unpleasant attitude.

Povia tried to repeat his success in stirring controversy (last year he presented the abysmal song “Luca era gay” about a gay man that is “cured” of homosexuality by a beautiful woman). This year he has presented a song about a woman named Eulana Englaro, who had been in a coma for twenty years, and whose family decided to turn off life support. Fortunately, the public seems to be getting tired of his self-importance, and the song, though fairly good, did not get very far.

Another minor controversy was Simone Cristicchi’s song about Carla Bruni, “Meno Male.”

And then, of course, the brouhaha surrounding “Italia, Amore Mio.” It was milked to death by Pupo all week long, as he appeared on talk shows playing the victim. In a further effort to provoke antipathy, the trio appeared with Marcello Lippi, the manager of the National Soccer Team, who made a speech in support of the song, completely disregarding the rules of the competition. Less said about this tempest in a teapot, the better.

Tuto Cotugno participated, but he only succeeded in demonstrating that his voice no longer has the flexibility that it once had. He ended up shouting his lyrics unpleasantly. The song was an old fashioned trifle, very “sanremese,” and was eliminated as quickly as possible.

This being the sixtieth edition of the Song Contest, the third night (the contest runs over a period of five evening performances) luminaries from the world of Italian popular music were invited to present their own interpretations of classic Sanremo songs of the past. Carmen Consoli gave a truly inspired performance of the Nila Pizzi classic from the very first Sanremo festival in 1951, “Grazie dei Fior’. The Rai block on these You Tube videos is especially deleterious in this case: where else will people be able to hear or see this great performance?

In the “New Generation” category, Nina Zilli presented a song that provided a great showpiece for her beautiful Mediterranean jazz vocal style, also recalling Mina in some ways.

The Sanremo CD

February 21, 2010 Posted by | music, performances | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Eurovision 2007!

Eurovision 2007: Power to the Party Crashers!

May, 2007

(Images here are from Eurovision 2006 in Athens)

It’s a truly upsetting scene at European TV these days: for years the tired crowd of pretentious partygoers have done little more than preen before the mirror at the annual party, having long ago lost interest in listening to each other, since they’ve heard it all a hundred times before. Now suddenly, they find their party has been crashed by the boorish newcomers to the neighborhood, who failed to understand that their invitation was only half heartedly extended. There they are, camped out on the most comfortable seats, drinking cheap beer and laughing at jokes in some incomprehensible foreign language. That’s the Eurovision song contest lately, as the Western European founders and financial benefactors of the contest fade ever more ignominiously into the background, finding themselves transformed from hosts to cater-waiters at their own party, serving votes to the rising stars of Eastern Europe.

The Greek production number, Eurovision style. 2006

The Greek production number, Eurovision style. 2006

The easterners arrived in the 1990s, and felt immediately at home in the atmosphere of tackiness and terminally white musical taste that has always been the hallmark of this contest. They have joined in the formulas with great enthusiasm, finding that it dovetailed comfortably with their own taste for headbanger rock and slut-disco (a mix of miniskirts up to here and oom-pa-pa drum machines), and they don’t fail to send loss-leaders in all formula categories: the lousy entries from Belarus and Poland attesting to this. However, one on one, the easterners generally do formula better than the westerners: the tired queen from Denmark was no match for Ukraine’s pro Verka Serduchka and somehow hard rock sounds more genuine and soulful from Croatia and Moldova. Even newcomer Georgia did dance beat better than the disco Dutch. But even more importantly, the Easterners do something that no westerners have thought of in years: they occasionally send their best quality pop singers with complex songs that mix folk traditions, popular tastes and schmaltzy singable lyrics for the home crowd. The Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia entries were well wrought. Bulgaria and Slovenia were innovative and entertaining. And Serbia was the winner, fair and square.

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May 4, 2009 Posted by | music, performances | , , , | Leave a comment

Esma Redzepova at New Morning

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Esma Redzepova Rocks the House at New Morning
Going to see Esma Redzepova tonight at New Morning, the laid back jazz club near Chateau d’Eau in Paris. The Queen of the Macedonian gypsies! Eastern European gypsy music is addictive, that must be why it has become so fashionable in Paris lately. Could it have started with the teenagers who get on the metro dragging a huge amplifier on wheels, which they then turn to blasting levels and gyrate around with their shirts open to the beat of “Dragostea din Tei”? No, no way! I always wondered how they could be so oblivious to what people find truly annoying. No, it didn’t start with them, Emir Kustorica is a more likely source, and a lot more classy.


Was it worth it? Of course, even with the crosstown negotiations to bring a friend from Colorado, and her niece, an eighteen year old lookalike of Paris Hilton. Ever try squeezing your way through the sex starved African post adolescent males who sell telephone cards at the Chateau D’eau metro, with Paris Hilton in tow? It was quite an adventure, and that was just the starter.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | concerts, music, performances | , , , | Leave a comment

Sanremo, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

Five nights of San Remo! AAARRRRRRRGH!!!

Only the Italians could imagine spreading a song contest over five nights, twenty hours of prime time television. Sometimes the chattering banter, clumsy joking, and boorish comedians were hard to take, sometimes the maudlin tributes and egomaniacal living legends were hard to swallow, and sometimes the singing was absolutely abyssmal. I really thought it was hopeless, but I saved it all anyway on my TV machine for later recording onto DVD. Later, when I selected only the stuff I liked for recording, I ran out of room on my 4 hour DVD: to my profound surprise, there were more than four hours of really good music in that tacky carnival! It is a shame that no one at San Remo has ever heard the expression “Less is more”, because if people were able to access the good stuff without having to sit through hours of loudmouth Michelle, pot bellied buffoonish comics and disoriented anglophone guests, they might better appreciate what a great show San Remo can be.

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May 4, 2009 Posted by | music, performances | , , , , , | 1 Comment