All I wanted was to meet Marina Sirits

I could see her across the lobby. I knew that if I was going to meet her now was the time.   It was the post performance reception for the opening of the play Hotel Suite at the Walnut Street Theatre.  I was standing with my wife who works there and it was perfectly normal for us to mingle with the actors on such occasions.

Yet tonight was different.  Tonight the actor standing across the room from me was Star-Trek-The-Next-Generation-marina-sirtis-35468632-694-530none other than Marina Sirtis whom I had watched for years as part of the cast of Star Trek, The Next Generation.  So I leaned down to Becky and asked, “Can you introduce me?”  She paused for a minute and said, “No.”

The exact reasons for her refusal are now lost in time but I have not forgotten the feelings of disappointment and the fact that I was more than a little miffed.  Of course I could have just gone over on my own but I did because, well, I couldn’t think of what I would say other than to tell her that I enjoyed her performance that night and that I was a big fan.  I was sure she has heard the exact same thing a million times and I didn’t want to come across as a total nerd.

That’s why the introduction was so key to my plan.  It might have then allowed for the possibility of something other than perfunctory and brief conversation.  And so I went home that night without having met her.

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As I reflect on this now I have a hard time remembering why in the world it was so important to me then.  I had a chance to reflect on this last month when I went to see Arch Enemy last month in Baltimore.

When the tickets went on sale there was an option to pay more for a VIP package.  The extra money (about 2x the GA ticket cost) got you a bunch of swag, entrance to the sound check and time for a meet and greet with the band.  I jumped at the chance.

As I stood in line outside the venue I entertained fantasies of how awesome meeting them would be.  Would we hit it off and make that more personal connection that I longed for all those years ago at the theatre?  Visions of hanging out and pounding beers after the show danced in my head.

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DSC_3546Things started out well.  Not long after getting inside I was approached by one of the guitarists, Nick Cordle*.  Nick (whose dad I know through email) came up and asked if I was, well, me.  We chatted for a while… about the tour, the travel from Japan and the few days they had off and about his brand-spanking-new Dean custom shop axe which was proudly wearing. He was kind enough to pose for a picture but then had to get to the sound check.

From that wonderful point of personal connection though everything was carefully orchestrated and managed.    The road manager took time to explain the ground rules and then left us for the sound check.  Periodically the band’s bouncer would come over and tell people to put their phones away so that no one could take pictures.

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My totally lame and most un-metal pose with the band.

The meet and greet itself was nice- I had a few seconds to chat with the band while they signed my poster.  They were warm and friendly but there was no time to make the kind of connection I made with Nick.  Even if there had been time, they might well not have been interested.  And you know what…. I couldn’t blame them.

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I have come to realize is that the people I  was so desperate to meet are just that- people.  That means that they have limited physical and emotional energy to give to their fans, even when their fans are cool priests who hang out in bars.  As I know only all too well, being “on” for the public can be exhausting.

And while standing in line at a Con or buying VIP access grants us time to shake their hand or take a selfie, the deeper connection I was seeking is far more elusive.  When it happens organically, as it sometimes does if you’re lucky enough to be hanging around back stage or at the bar where the band goes after the show, it can be the best thing in the world.  But it can never be forced.  I guess that’s what makes those rare encounters so special.  So in the end, I am totally fine with the fact that I never got to meet Marina Sirtis.

What about you?  Do you geek out at the chance to meet your favorite actor or musician?  If so is the selfie or autograph enough for you?  Please share your story and thoughts below.

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* Late breaking news.  Apparently, Nick is no longer with AE.  This bums me out since he brought a lot to the band and is a great guy.  I’ll keep you posted on where he lands.

Brewing Gingerbread Jesus

It started over a beer.  To be more exact, it started over many beers.  My wife and I were at a post Christmas dinner party.  Over the previous two hours we had made our way through appetizers, a delicious main course and several rounds of great beer.  At this point we brought out our contribution to the meal, some of our favorite German gingerbread or lebkuchen.

One of the distinctive features of the large round cookies is that each is backed with a what_is_lebkuchenwhite edible paper like substance which keeps it from sticking to the cookie beneath it.  As I passed some to one of the other guests she took one look at it and exclaimed, “What are you trying to do, slip me a communion wafer along with my cookie?  What is this, gingerbread Jesus?”

As the laughter rang out around the table we looked at each other and in unison shouted, “That would be a great name for a beer!”  Under most circumstances the joke would have ended there.  But it just so happened that I was laughing with Erin Wallace, who along with her husband Scott, owns and runs a brewpub, Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery.

Over the next few months the idea came up in conversation a couple of times but it wasn’t until August that we actually felt the pressure of time to make the beer happen if it was going to be ready in time for Christmas.  Finally, after weeks of conversations the fateful day finally came.

Just after 8 am I blearily made my way to Barren Hill.  Although I was running on four hours sleep my excitement for the chance to work with pro brewers kept me wide awake.

DSC_3579Head brewer Scott Morrison had worked out the final plan.  The base beer was going to be a Belgian dubbel with fresh ginger and small amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg added to help evoke the flavors of the cookie that first inspired it.  To provide sugars and to enhance flavor and color we used molasses.  He also planned to add a little twist by adding some wild yeast.  This would give a little twang and keep it from becoming too sweet and cloying.

As the morning wore on I asked lots of questions.  Scott and his assistants Andrew and Rick were extremely patient.  I helped where I could but I soon realized the best way I could help was to stay more or less out of the way as they worked their magic.  I was amazed at the number of times they took PH and gravity readings.  And although I know from homebrewing that when it comes to beer cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, watching the cleaning take place on such a large scale was a powerful reminder of just how much grunt work actually goes into the craft.

By the time we were ready to transfer out of the kettle the beer had taken on a gorgeous color and according to the guys, was very promising.  Hopefully I’ll be able to check on the progress first hand soon and let you know how it’s doing.

A big thank you to Erin, Scott, Andrew and Rick to this amazing gift which all started  over beer and laughter.

Stayed tuned and hopefully I be able to join you in hoisting a glass at Barren Hill in December.

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Alternatives to a Toast Pt 1 Libation

This past week our beer club met on November 1st which is All Saints Day.  Although I don’t usually bring much religion into our meetings I thought it was appropriate to take ten minutes at the end to share a little bit about the history of Libation and then for us to do a Libation ritual of our own.

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downloadFirst some background.  The ritual of pouring libation is found in many other cultures and religions.  Its origins are lost in antiquity but it is referenced in Judaism (Genesis 35:14 and Isaiah) and classical writings of Ancient Greece (The Baccae).  It is still practiced in Japanese Shintoism and in African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American communities, to name a few.  Libation takes many forms.  In Russia and surrounding countries it is an old tradition to pour vodka onto the grave of the deceased.   In the South American Andes, it is common to pour a small amount of one’s beverage on the ground before drinking as an offering to Mother Earth. In the United States pouring libation is a part of many Kwanza celebrations.

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So what is it?  Quite simply, Libation is the pouring out of a liquid in the honor of an ancestor or less frequently, a deity.  Libation acknowledges the contributions of those who have gone before, recognizing that without their contributions, the present community would not exist.  While always done with reverence, it is not usually a somber liturgy.  Rather it is meant to express an attitude of thankfulness and often done with a spirit of gladness. Various liquids are used ranging from water to coconut milk to gin.  Prayers are usually offered as part of the ceremony, the congregation repeating a common response.

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It is no coincidence that we use drink rather than food for this purpose… liquid is what today-040animates us, it binds us together, it purifies and renews us.  That which fills our cup reminds us of so much that is primordial and powerful… it is water, which in both science and religion is understood as the universal source of our life… it is the life force that is carried by our blood and when, as is so often the case, our cup contains alcohol it is joy and celebration, particularly when we drink with those who are near and dear.

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Therefore libation is much more than a simple toast.  The ritual of pouring libation is an essential ceremonial tradition and a way of giving homage to those who are no longer with us. This small act of sacrifice gives thanks and acknowledges that we would not be who we are without them.  They are not simply remembered but are in fact invited to be active participants with us. In this way their memories are not only recalled… they are considered to be present, still an essential and vital part of the community that pours the libation and drinks in their honor.

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When we raise a glass to pay homage to all the people who enriched our lives but now are no longer with us, it most appropriate to think of this act, not simply as a toast to their memory, but rather as an act of libation, one that not only honors their memory but also reminds us that they will forever remain a part of who we are.

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We then took the remainder of the beer we had not drunk and made sure all of our glasses were charged.  I then led the group in the following ritual:

 

A Litany of Libation

Leader:  Almighty God, creator and giver of life, we come before you this day in humility and gladness.  In thanksgiving for all the blessings of this life, in particular for the lives of those we love but see no longer, we pour out this libation in their memory.

Leader:  In thanks for the time we shared together

People: We pour libation

In thanks for the friendships we formed

We pour libation

In honor of the gifts they gave us

We pour libation

In honor of their contributions to our world

We pour libation

In honor of the families they have left behind

We pour libation

As a pledge to live our lives as a fitting legacy to their memory

We pour libation

Amen

We then remembered the names of those we love but see no longer as I played Warren Zevon’s, “Keep me in your Heart” from my iPod.  At the conclusion of the song we drank to their memories.

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The service concluded by going out to the grave of one of our deceased members and silently pouring the libation onto his final resting place.

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Although our group was made up  of believers and non-believers, in it seemed a fitting way to end our meeting and to pay tribute to our family and friends in a way far more meaningful than a simple toast.

Act your age, not your shoe size.

I saw this sentiment flash across many faces as I told folks about my trip to Baltimore to see Arch Enemy last week.  I have much to tell, not the least of which concerns meeting the band, but I wanted to write this piece while I am still feeling the wrath of the mosh pit that formed in the very center of the crowd.

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The next day, although I was running on less than four hours sleep, the adrenaline of the show kept me going and it wasn’t long till I was telling everyone I could about the meet and greet, the music and of course the pit.  My wife and teenage children just rolled their eyes as I recounted the amazing guitar work, vocals, hits and crowd surfing.  I imagine they were hardly alone in thinking that I’m nuts for insisting on playing in what is mostly a young man’s (and occasionally young woman’s) game.

With few exceptions I was twice the age of most of the other bodies flying around that night.  In fact my age garnered several comments as the evening wore on.  Thankfully all of them were complimentary.  A guy in his mid twenties who hit like a mack truck grabbed me around the neck and screamed in my ear, “Man, I think it’s great that an old guy is keeping this pit going!”  Another came from a man with scraggily gray hair hanging down around his shoulders who slapped me on the back and proclaimed, “Us geezers gotta stick together!”

“Old guy???”  “Geezer???”  I sure didn’t feel that way at the show.  For a few hours I wasn’t worried about budgets, worship attendance or my son’s grades.  I was free and reveling in the moment (which was probably a good thing since keeping your head on a swivel is a rather important survival strategy).  But just a few hours later as I creaked into bed my age started catching up with me.  The next morning I knew that those terms, “Old guy” and “Geezer”  were in fact all too true.  I felt every hit.  Getting up and down took a whole lot more effort than they should have.  Even now,  four days later, I am feeling painful reminders of all those hits.

So why do it?   It’s been said before “If it’s too loud then you’re too old”  Well I’m in no hurry to get old, or at least, old-er.   I love going to these shows.  I love the music. I love the energy.  And I confess I also feel a rather adolescent surge of  pride at the thought that I can hold my own in the pit.  But for the first time in my life I started to engage in the cost-benefit analysis.  Was three hours of fun worth four days of recovery?

It’s an individual calculus.  For me a few hours of playing Peter Pan is still worth the price of a few days of feeling every bit of my age.  But for the first time in my life I can imagine a time in the future when I may have to give it up.

But until that time comes (and I hope it never does) I have absolutely no intention of acting my age, at least, not in the mosh pit.

To Everything There’s a Season (Turn, Turn, Turntable)

“Don’t turn around cause I’m never coming back!”  So thundered Leslie West from my Nantucketsleighriderecord player.  That old, scratched up copy of Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride” was my introduction to rock and roll.  I wore it out on my one piece record player- you know- the kind that integrated the turntable and amp into a single cheesy machine.

That heavier than lead, early 70′s sound, forever influenced my taste and lead me to Sabbath, Dio and BOC.  Yet as a teen growing up in the era of New Wave and Hair Metal, I found few, if any, kindred souls.  Even as I branched out into Goth, Punk and Thrash, the love of that sound never left me.

Yet now, more than 30 years after I first put needle to that vinyl, it seems that things have come full circle.  Things that were once old and seemingly forgotten, are new once more.  This first occurred to me last year when my friend Marcus turned me on to the work of Purson.  Check out the video for “The Contract” here.

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Apparently Jefferson Airplane is still alive and kicking and I love it!

Next, and again courtesy of Marcus was Opeth.  Ranging between Prog Rock and Death Metal their latest album leans heavily towards the former with none of the trademark growling vocals that helped define them.  Yet the emphasis on composition and mysticism story telling is more than enough to carry them. See for yourself with the video for Cusp of EternityOpeth

But the final piece of evidence for me came just this week.  I was getting psyched up to see Arch Enemy tomorrow in Baltimore.  In addition to putting them into heavy rotation  I checked into the opening acts.  In doing so I stumbled onto Huntress.  After one listen I can only conclude they must share the same musical roots.  Huntress3

They fit the mold perfectly- combining Maiden’s sound, the weight and occult narratives of Dio with BOC’s sci-fi smarts, the psychedelia of Mountain’s cover art and a little Crazy World of Authur Brown for good measure. If they just threw in a B3 I would think I was still listening to scratchy vinyl on that old cheesy record player. The result is Zenith.Zenith

Move over Bruce Dickinson.  Jill Janus may not be able to fly a 747 but she rocks!  I am very to see how their act translates to the stage.

So it seems old  Leslie West was wrong.   Thanks to a new generation of musical grandchildren he’s coming back in a big way.  And to that I can only say Amen!

Keeping busy with the Beef and Beer

Well I have to confess I have not had time to write a post for this week because my time has been taken up prepping for our parish Beef and Beer which is this Saturday.  Props to Jessica for the cool logo.  BnB_2014

This will be our fourth year with this fundraiser for the parish and we always take the time to brew a few special sixtels for the event.  This year we will be serving a Festbier and a wet-hopped IPA with Cascades and Centennials from my garden.   I wrote about picking them and brewing this particular brew in The Joy of the Harvest post last month.

If you are in Philly on Saturday I hope you can make it.  Advance tickets are $25 and $30 at the door.  All proceeds go to further our mission work in the local community, at our sister mission in Kentucky and around the world.  Hoping to see you.

 

 

What in the world are you doing here?

There is a certain serendipity when you unexpectedly bump into a friend.  You know what I mean- the chance encounter of pulling into the concert only you find you have parked next to someone you haven’t seen in months or looking across the restaurant to spot an old friend from high school.

Yet as cool as that coincidence or providence may be it become so much more amazing when it happens 4300 miles from home.  Not surprisingly it happened over a beer.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to go to Rome.  And while I fully expected to be Beer Week event 2013 (1)seeing some amazing sights, tasting awesome food and sampling all the Italian craft beer I could find I never expected to share some of those experiences with one of my favorite publicans, none other than Fergus Carey.  As you may remember, Fergie is the generous host of our A Priest, Minister and a Rabbi Walk into a Bar events.

While we didn’t randomly bump into one another on the street (it was actually through checking in on Facebook that we discovered that we were both in Rome) what are the odds of being there at the same time?  Needless to say we could not allow this opportunity pass so we arranged to meet for an afternoon beer.

20130709_184837We met at Piazza Navona  and then took the ten minute hike to Open Baladin.  We were later joined by my lovely wife who had been out for a walk around Trastevere.  Over several rounds we talked about our travels and families.

We had such a good time that we decided to meet up again later that night for an al fresco dinner.  This time we made sure everyone got in on the fun, including Fergie’s wonderful wife and all of our children.  Sitting together on a back street we watched the other diners and shoppers as we listened to an ever changing rota of street musicians.

While our conversation seldom turned back to our lives in Philadelphia (we were on Rome 2013_855vacation after all), there was still something reassuring and even grounding to find this tangible connection to home.  And maybe that is what lies at the heart of this kind of serendipitous encounter.  Not simply the chance to catch up with a friend, but the opportunity to rekindle that sense of connection to another time or place.

What chance encounters have you had?  Who have you run into at an unexpected time or place?  How far away have you been when you bumped into someone from home?  Please let us know.