Real Life 2014 Top Ten

 I wanted to do a series "best of" lists for 2014, and I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do, really. On the GS tumblr, Ian put together the top books read by all participating editors, so check out my list there. Other than books, I don't heavily rely on any other genre of culture to get me through the year-- though I do imbibe on all sorts of culture. So rather than doing a "top three movies seen" or a "top 1 cooking shows watched" series of lists, I decided to do something like Marcus Greil's "Real Life Rock Top Ten"--but for my 2014. Special note: It goes without saying that I probably cried at a number of these experiences. So here goes:

10. ICA Philadelphia trip (March 2014)
For my birthday, Geoff and I took a trip around the city. Everywhere we went I told everyone, "It's my birthday!" because that's the kind of person I am. We went to White Dog Cafe, Penn Book Center, Philly AIDS Thrift, and we went to the Philly ICA, where I'd never been before. The shows that were up were interesting and/or moving. The group exhibition on the main floor was called Ruffneck Constructivists, and it brought together "11 international artists in order to define a contemporary manifesto of urban architecture and change". There were a lot of mixed media pieces, some insanely great video work, photography I want in my house, preserved bottles, broken glass, a wall of meats and malt liquor, and an overall feeling of "this is important". There was a lot of hip hop references and the use of it as a sort of material as well. I remember I kept thinking, "this feels really important." The other shows they had up were the winners from an Open Video Call and a many-in-one exhibit that was all a part of a retrospective of the museum itself, "ICA@50" and the work up when we were there included Robert Morris: Tracks / Robert Morris/Projects (1974); Videoarte Brasil/Video Art (1975); and Simon Kim & Billy Dufala "Made in Philly" (1973). I seem to remember there being something else up, a lot of paper ephemera that seemed different/disconnected from the ICA@50 main exhibit, but perhaps it was a part of that. The whole day was awesome, and I need to be sure to get back to the ICA again this year.

9. Mike Doughty at the Tin Angel (November 2014)
I emailed Mike Doughty to ask him to judge the GS Flash Non-fiction contest that opens 1/15, and he countered with a YES plus a HEY COME TO MY SHOW TONIGHT, so we went. Jenn, Geoff, & I went to the Tin Angel, which is a small-ish, narrow venue in Old City. We sat in the back. It was only him, and the show started early, which was perfect for the three of us. One $76 parking ticket later, we had just come out of an amazing, amazing show. Doughty performed alongside "Scrap" his bassist-cum-cellist, played a variety of different instruments (a guitar! a mandolin! a banjo!), and must have played at least two from every album I know with his name on it. Considering he recently put out a record of all-new songs (Stellar Motel) alongside a ton of Soul Coughing "re-imaginations", he righteously could have limited himself to playing from those, but did not. His voice alongside the cello was so good, so so good. He and Scrap also took questions from a Question Jar, a jar in which fans wrote random questions, which most of the time was pretty hilarious. I am super glad I went to see him play; he's one of my favorite lyricists by far. It was one of those shows I didn't want to end at all. He even played "Janine", and "Madeline and Nine", and, and, and...

8.  MarchFourth Marching Band show // Bethlehem, PA (October 2014)
Our friend Judi emailed Geoff & I to ask if we wanted to go out to Bethlehem to see this great band-- she couldn't stress enough how great they were. Boy, am I glad we said yes! First of all, the show was at the Musikfest Cafe at the SteelStacks in Bethlehem, which is a phenomenal grounds for culture set in a post-industrial iron-making facility that operated for years, but not just serve as intense architecture. But back to the band-- they killed it. They're like a vaudeville act plus jazz plus brass plus circus plus swing plus ska plus marching band plus steampunk plus ahhhh! They describe themselves as "a kaleidoscope of musical and visual energy that inspires dancing in an atmosphere of celebration." Yup. They're from Portland, and I haven't been to a live show that well put together and entertaining ever. Old Crow Medicine Show at the Friday night concert at the 2014 Folk Festival put on a great show, but the MarchFourth show had people on stilts, pole dane acts, and the raddest costumes I've ever seen musicians wear. It was awesome. They covered a Nirvana song that night that someone recorded and posted on Youtube, so check it out, and definitely go see them.

from the MarchFourth show in Bethlehem!

7. Full Bleed: Poetry Comics reading at Indy Hall via Red Sofa Salon
The night before the gallery show officially opened at Indy Hall in Old City, Hila Ratzabi hosted a reading by five of the writers whose work was correlated with the poetry comics show-- Annie Mok, Paul Siegell, Sommer Browning, Sampson Starkweather, and Bianca Stone. The reading was stellar. Paul always has the best energy when he reads. Sampson has this way of saying things that are true that you'd probably never figure out how to say yourself in his poetry. He, Sommer, and Bianca all made my "Best Books Read in 2014" list I discussed above. Sommer is somehow deadly serious and whole-heartedly funny at the same time--also, she read all the "right" poems. I taught from her collection Backup Singers in the poetry workshop I taught in the fall, and many of the poems we'd discussed in class were those that she read-- this was very cool because a few of my students were at the reading. Finally, Bianca just killed it. Specifically, the last poem that she read was in my mind for weeks. There were woods and family and musings and then, finally, zombies. The art that we got to preview was all phenomenal. It was a well-curated show, and the reading to go with it was excellent.

work from Bianca Stone at the Full Bleed show in Philly
6. Food Network (November - Present)
For as much TV as I watch, I apparently value the music/art I experience more than the television. I made an effort to watch the Blacklist on Monday nights (& valued the facebook posts/comments a small group of my friends and I participated in following our viewing as well as both 2014 seasons of the Voice. I liked catching Nashville when it was live as well as Once Upon a Time, but my obsession here was more FOMO than actual devotion to character and show.  I haven't had cable since I was a kid, and shortly after we had it installed, I discovered the Food Network. I love the Food Network. I love how I can turn it on at pretty much any time and love what's on. I particularly like Alton Brown and Cutthroat Kitchen-- I watched a marathon of "Celebrity Chef" Cutthroat Kitchen before the finale came on, which was a great introduction to many of the chefs that host shows. I watched and loved the Holiday Baking Championship, which inspired me to bake more. And I'm just glad it's in my life in a general way. There seems to be always something great on it.

5. El Caribefunk after hours campground // Philadelphia Folk Fest (August, 2014)
El Caribefunk played an excellent afternoon set on Saturday night of Fest. As me and my friends were out gallivanting around the campgrounds following the concerts, I spied their drummer, ‎Andrés and couldn't help but tell him how awesome they were earlier. He was so grateful, and he said that the band was having the time of their lives at our folk fest. He also let me in on the fact that they were doing a late-night set up at The Point at a certain time. Geoff and I wandered between Glow Nation and The Fish, but we were sure to be at The Point by 2am. They set up in the dark just as they had on stage except this time there was no barrier between them and the dancing crowd-- you can't NOT dance to El Caribefunk, even when they're un-amplified and singing in a language that is not your native language. They had us singing along just as they had earlier when they played the Camp Stage, and before long a huge crowd had gathered to listen and dance. They played pretty much a full set. This is one of the wildest, most energetic, crazy fun bands I'd heard play in a long time, and to be that close to their radiating energy was enlivening, affirming, truly special.  If you ever get a chance to get out and see this band live, do it.

from El Caribefunk's official Camp Stage set at PFF 2014

4. Ten-Minute Hamlet at Groundz Talent Night (August, 2014)
This is almost not "culture", and like #s 3 & 2 I had a direct hand in it, but I helped put together a version of Hamlet based (v. loosely) on the Tom Stoppard "15 Minute Hamlet" for talent night up at Groundz-- which is where Geoff and I spend most summer weekends, as part of a crew that helps transition the fairgrounds of the Philly Folk Festival from hayfield to Festival. They ran a talent night this year because it was something the crew had done in the past but not resurrected for awhile-- not since I joined the crew four years ago at least. The big tent I camp under calls itself Mulberry, for the tree our tent is beneath, so I formed the Mulberry Drama Club, casted the show, and we practiced--an hour or so before the talent night festivities began. We had the Ghost quit halfway through the dress rehearsal, but in the end, as we took the stage (our kitchen's eating area cleared out), everything went well. People laughed when they were supposed to laugh (Kyle-as-Horatio/Polonius/Laertes snorting a line of flour with the Ghost holding a bag labeled "flour" after he yelled for his "line, line please!"; Nick-as-Hamlet saying "I'll take the Ghost's word for a thousand pounds" like he was on a Jeopardy; all of us, dead on the stage (me-as-Ophelia crouched behind a huge fake gravestone) at the end, shaking with silent laughter. It was all perfect.

3. Philalalia: a small press &poetry arts fair (September, 2014)
I got to help put together this poetry and small press fair for Philadelphia-- three days of a bookfair, three days of on- and off-site events, and generally goodness. GS tabled next to Apiary, lots of folks from in the city and out of the city showed up to table/attend/reader, Eileen Myles read to us about her dog, some of my students read their work, and I was so glad to play a role in helping it come together. The opening night event at Tattooed Moms that I put together was particularly awesome. Caitlin Luce Christensen from GS 5.2 read for us; I read along with Rachel Milligan representing Philly Review of Books; Nic Esposito of the Head & the Hand Press read from his then-forthcoming book of essays, and Sean Hoots of Hoots and Hellmouth read from his essay in Head & the Hand's Asteroid Belt Almanac. Also, there was a fight. Yes, these two cousins got in a yelling fight that began with the first dude yelling, "I hate poetry" after the first poet read. It's a long story I am always glad to tell.

Lillian Dunn from Apiary & I celebrated its & Gigantic Sequins'
5th anniversaries at Philalalia

2. Impossible Books: a collaborative art/writing show (February, 2014)
Brian Warfield had this idea, to put together an "impossible book", and I sort of ran with it. The gallery at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym collaborated with me on finding and pairing writers and artists to create, together, an "impossible book". Some of the pairs came to us as pairs, but others we matched. I was really nervous for opening night. I'd never done anything like this before; it was difficult for me to assess whether any of it would turn out "good"-- so when opening night was such an insane success, I wasn't just relieved but mystified that I could be a part of something with such great energy. The opening reception itself featured a reading, where the participants explained their works and then read from the "book" they created. Kirwyn Sutherland especially blew my mind that night; I bought a fake credit card from a brother/sister pair meant to be used as an impossible textbook to help teach students the true cost of war; Geoff and Matt's piece was something you could walk into; the whole night just blew my mind. Steve Burns wrote a great review of it for Apiary that you should read.

A shot from the opening night of Impossible Books

1. DakhaBrakha // Philadelphia Folk Festival (August, 2014)
I am not a religious person-- I'm not quite Temperance Brennan, but I don't find comfort in the religion in which I was raised and get uncomfortable when I find myself in churches and most theological conversations. So when I say, "I had a religious experience," I'm not really quite sure what I mean. But on Saturday afternoon on the Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, PA, a Ukranian band by the name of DakhaBrakha made me believe in something. They dressed up in these interesting outfits-- the three women in white dresses and black hats like I'd never seen, and when they began to sing I was nothing short of mesmerized. The notes they were hitting and the combinations of them were something I had never heard before. They lay on the notes with such length and intensity that I could feel them. They sort of whoop and wail and yell and bang on drums and play other instruments and it all combines into something just awesome. I downloaded a CD by them, but it's really not the same as seeing them live. This YouTube video is the best I could find that helps to represent what I experienced that day-- but imagine this live, in the middle of a hayfield, surrounded by people of all sorts of everything, on a sunny August day, loud and encompassing in a way that overcame everything around you, erased and made better everything. "We are Dakha Brakha from Free Ukraine!" they said.

Being in the trailer for Ian Carlos Crawford's novel Vaguely Based on a True Story
The whole Friday night concert at PFF 2014 (Old Crow Medicine Show, Shemekia Copeland, etc.
AWP 2014 Ladies Night Reading


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