...because Foto Friday was already spoken for. Plus, I'm a procrastinator.

Here are some pictures I took.

Photo - Green tree frog on mandevilla leaf in bright sunlight
Where's a pair of Wayfarers when you need them?

The green tree frogs have been numerous lately (or perhaps there's just one and he/she is someone ubiquitous). But it's a bit rare to see one in the bright sunlight like this. It soon retreated into the shade of this mandevilla.

Photo - Spider molt - unknown species
What's going on here?!

For a couple of days this week I was watching yet another arachnid activity outside one of our windows. This one had me puzzled. It appeared to be two spiders. Was there a meal taking place, or was it a bit of spidery hanky-panky? I had no idea, but this scene persisted for almost two days.

The next day, this was the only thing left:

Photo - Spider molt - unknown species
No wonder it took the spider two days to wriggle out of this.

It's the same scene; I just used a macro lens to get up close and personal. I was now even more confused, as this spider was moribund to the max. So I turned to my go-to resource for insect identification: the Antman's Hill® Facebook group. The experts there quickly explained why my spider wasn't skittering about. This is actually a molt...the shed "skin," if you will, of the spider shown in the previous photo. Pretty amazing, huh? (Those experts never did, however, identify the spider for me. I guess they figured that anyone who couldn't tell a spider corpse from a live one was probably hopeless. And, of course, they were right.)

Photo - Anole resting vertically on a metal gate
Move along, folks...nothing to see here.

Some people have fence lizards, others have tree lizards. Some even have brush lizards, which presumably are afraid of heights. We, however, have gate lizards. (OK, it's really just an anole whose camouflage isn't as effective as it thinks.)

Photo - tree fungus with a tiny T-rex photoshopped in its shade

Tree fungi pop up in the weirdest places sometimes, but they provide a valuable service to tiny creatures needing respite from the Texas summer sun.

This final image is going to require some explaining.

Photo collage - nighttime trail camera photos of various wildlife in our back yard

This is sort of a collage of critters that visited our back deck over the course of two evenings. Most of them require no identification (but I will provide one anyway), but there are some things worth noting. 

  1. A pair of foxes
  2. A trash panda, aka raccoon
  3. A fast-moving armadillo
  4. Skunk #1 - white back and tail
  5. Skunk #2 - standard black and white back
  6. Skunk #3 - black back and tail
  7. Ring-tailed cat (Bassariscus astutus) aka ringtail, a member of the raccoon family
  8. Not sure...it is the same small fox shown in #1?
I'm always surprised at the variety of coloration in skunks. Besides the ones pictured above, we've seen on that's almost completely white.

The ringtail was a terrific surprise. They are presumably fairly common, but also very shy and elusive, and this is only the second one we've photographed in four years of living here. As you can see, the animal's tail-to-body ratio is ridiculous.

And with respect to #8, the more I watch the video (all of these photos are screen shots of frames from videos), the more I think this is the same juvenile fox that appears in the first photo. It's a cute little rascal.

There's never a dull moment when it comes to wildlife around Casa Fire Ant.
¡Hola, amigos¡ ¿Qué pasa? Hoy es el día nacional de guacamole, y es la hora a celebrar. (It's also Mexico's Independence Day. Coincidence? I think not.)

We've got a lot of territory to cover, so let's lean into it (as "they" say in H.R.).

I'm sure most of you are itching to know what's going on with the garden spider I introduced a week or so ago. As you may recall, said spider wasn't exactly batting a thousand when it came to closing the deal on a meal, so to speak. But I suppose it was getting by...until a couple of days ago, when I noticed that it and pretty much all evidence of its web were no longer haunting gracing our garage window. So, unless it packed its bags and moved somewhere the property values are more reasonable, I have to assume that it discovered the hard way that there's always someone bigger and meaner than you. [Cue Bad Bad Leroy Brown mood music]

Of course, I have no idea what that bigger someone was, but I have my suspicions.

T-rex staring down our garden spider

On a sorta semi pseudo-related note, as long as we're updating some local wildlife reports, our Texas spiny lizard is still hanging out in the garage, eating bugs and spiders -- wait...you don't think? Nah...surely not... -- and pooping everywhere, and while it may be my imagination, I think it's getting accustomed to my presence. At least it's not diving under the treadmill the instant I come into the garage.

If that's the case, it may be because I finally wised up and set out a paper plate which I fill with water almost every morning. I'm not that wise in the ways of lizards but I figured that it wouldn't hurt to put out some water just in case it wasn't getting sufficiently hydrated from food sources. I did wonder, though, if my efforts were being recognized by the target of my largesse. 

That question was put to rest a couple of days ago when I watched the lizard creep slowly from under the treadmill and make its way to the edge of the paper plate where it proceeded to drink some that morning's refreshment. 

As is my wont, I determined to capture some photographic evidence of this phenomenon, so I set up a GoPro camera aimed at the dish, and configured to take a photo every 30 seconds. Each morning, I would refill the plate with water, and turn on the camera, letting it do its thing for a couple of hours. I would then return and scroll through the images on the camera (is it obvious that I'm retired?), looking for the affirmation that I hadn't imagined what I thought I saw. And for several days, it did appear that it had been an illusion, a cruel joke foisted on me by an uncaring Mother Nature and/or a decaying brain.

But this morning's efforts erased all doubt. I finally caught the little guy/gal in the act, and here's the proof:

Animated GIF: Texas spiny lizard drinking water
You can lead a lizard to water, and sometimes it will drink.

Let's talk about music for a minute, shall we? First, here are the last ten songs that iTunes shuffled onto my phone this morning:

  • Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu -- Pink Martini (thanks, Sam!)
  • Too Much Stuff -- Delbert McClinton
  • All the Pretty Colors -- Sturgill Simpson
  • Never Kill Another Man -- The Steve Miller Band
  • Eleanor Rigby -- Joshua Bell & Frankie Moreno
  • I'll Fly Away -- Gary Chapman & Wynonna [not Ryder]
  • Paranoid -- Black Sabbath (how did that get on there?!)
  • Dance Electric -- Pointer Sisters (how did that get on there?!)
  • Same Kind of Crazy -- Delbert McClinton (hmm...I sense a trend)
  • Love is Gonna Gotcha -- Lucy Woodward
Pretty interesting, huh? And, guess what they all have in common, other than being comprised of 1s and 0s which are magically converted into sound waves? Uh...well...nothing, actually. So, never mind.

I have, within the past two days, purchased two new albums, which I now recommend for your consideration. The first is alluded to in the list above...the album name is Hang On Little Tomato by Pink Martini, and the songs on this 2004 album are almost as eclectic as the list of music I provided above. The group consists of a dozen musicians, and they've performed songs in 25 different languages (not all at the same time...I'm guessing) in a wide variety of styles. My pal Sam played the title track of the album for me on Monday, and it features a wonderfully accessible clarinet solo, and I'm a sucker for clarinet solos that make me foolishly think that, yes, I could do that. (Reality inevitably harshes my mellow.) I immediately downloaded the entire album.

Then, yesterday, I purchased Sturgill Simpson's new album, The Ballad of Dood and Juanita, released last month. I've previously confessed to being a Sturgill fan, and this album generally reinforces my fandom. It's mostly bluegrass/Americana/throwback country in genre, with one great exception -- a Latin-style number called Juanita and featuring Willie Nelson on guitar. [Some have expressed  astonishment/disappointment that Willie doesn't sing on the track, but his unique guitar phrasing is unmistakeable.] The album is short -- less than 30 minutes of music -- and designed to be listened to straight through, even if most of the tracks stand up well by themselves. 

If it sounds like I'm damning the album with faint praise, it's only because there's not a lot of meat on the bones. Three of the ten tracks are a minute or less in length, and one song is sort of a remixed epilogue of the introduction. OTOH, Simpson is a skilled storyteller and if you approach the album with that in mind, you'll be rewarded for your time.

We might as well wrap this up with more music. Here's one of the songs I think I'd like to have played at my funeral.

I changed my mind (not about the funeral song, but about how to end this post). Here's a tree frog resting on a poinsettia leaf. Sorta makes you look forward to Christmas, huh? [There's more where this came from over on my Instagram page. Hint, hint.]

Photo - Gree tree frog resting on a poinsettia leaf

OK, now we're finished. Go eat some guac.

In League with the Stones
September 12, 2021 7:14 AM | Posted in:

Note: This is the last in a series of posts from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category. I wrote this one in July of 2008, back when I was still semi-coherent.

I'm early in the book of Job in my 2008 "Read Through the Bible" curriculum, and I noticed a phrase yesterday morning that has hitherto escaped my consciousness. In the fifth chapter, Job's friend Eliphaz is continuing his monologue intended to provide some comfort -- or at least some explanation -- for the sorry state in which Job finds himself, having lost everything but his life (and his wife). 

 Eliphaz isn't really a very good counselor; he and his two compatriots would have been better off doing what they did for the first seven days of their visit with Job: just sitting with him in silence. Sometimes we try too hard to fill the void, when all we really need to do is be there. Anyway, Eliphaz is talking about the privileges that accrue to those whom God favors with His discipline (a oft-repeated Biblical doctrine, by the way, but not one that necessarily provides immediate comfort to those in pain). Here's how the New American Standard Version phrases verses 17-23:
Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you.
In famine He will redeem you from death,
And in war from the power of the sword.
You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,
And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.
You will laugh at violence and famine,
And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.
For you will be in league with the stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.
I love that turn of phrase, in league with the stones of the field. It speaks to a reconciliation with the most fundamental aspects of God's creation, and not just a passive one, either. I don't mean to get New Agey or Zen-sounding, but communing with rocks conjures up precisely that kind of image. On the other hand, I'm probably giving rocks too little credit. After all, Jesus spoke of stones crying out, and while He was probably being metaphorical, far be it from me to suggest that the Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Universe couldn't imbue limestone with lyrics or agate with articulation. 

What Eliphaz was probably getting at, though, is that when you're right with God, everything else pretty much falls into place as well. Here's how the Contemporary English translation puts verse 23: ...and your rocky fields will become friendly. What's interesting is that he doesn't suggest that God removes those rocks -- those bumps in the road that at best are uncomfortable and at worst throw us completely off track -- but that we learn how to deal with them. We can't always control our circumstances, but we can determine our attitude toward them.

In league with the stones. That sounds like a great place to be, doesn't it? 
All I have to say about the title of this post is...Roget let me down yet again.

For the past couple of months I've been observing a female yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia; a type of orb weaver) just outside one of our garage windows. During that time, it's grown from a half-inch "wingspan" juvenile into a three inch Stuff Of Nightmares, dining on a variety of hapless insects that become ensnared in its two feet wide circular web, which is anchored at the corners by some tall shrubs on the bottom, and the eave of our house at the top.

I check on it daily, mainly to reassure myself that if it's still there, it's not in our house. Did I mention my arachnid aversion? I confess a somewhat morbid fascination with its behavior, as I comfortably (in a physical sense; emotionally, it's a different story) view it from the opposite side of the glass.

But last week, I saw something that made me drop my guard and rush outside to get a closer look. The spider was busily spinning something around with those Tim Burtonesque legs, and I immediately recognized it as Lady Shelob's next Meal Simple. The apparently imminent entrée was vaguely beetle-shaped, and as I looked closer, I realized to my horror that it was still alive and [literally] kicking.

So, of course, I had to video it...and you'll never believe what happened next! (No, really!)

So much for the spider being the ultimate predator.

Of course, I had to chase some rabbits after viewing these spectacles. Here are some things you might not know about spiders and their webs:

  • Spiders can vary the thickness and stickiness of the silk they produce depending on its intended use. For example, the silk that the beetles were wrapped in is called "aciniform" while the outer rim and spokes of the web is comprised of silk called "ampullate" (and ampullate can have different compositions depending on whether it's meant to be temporary during construction of the web, or permanent).

  • Aciniform silk is much tougher than other types, making the beetles' escapes that much more impressive.

  • The Darwin's bark spider's silk is the toughest biologic material ever discovered; it's ten times tougher on a weight-adjusted basis than Kevlar. ("Toughness" is a combination of a material's strength and ductility -- which, as we all know, is the measure of how much a material can be distorted [or stretched, in the case of spider silk] without breaking.) This explains why Kim Kardashian's bras are made exclusively of spider silk.

  • OK, I made that last sentence up.

  • Spider silk is rich in vitamin K, which can aid in blood clotting, so the next time you, say, cut off a finger with your chain saw, just look for a spider web. (Not really. I mean, it might work, but there are probably other, more medically effective measures, starting with not cutting off any appendages.)
I'm not a musical historian, but I play one on this blog, and I think the Golden Age of Swing in American music ran from the late 1930s through the end of World War II. A host of incredible musicians wrote and recorded songs that still capture ears and imagination almost a century later.

I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a favorite tune from that era, but I'm pretty sure Sing, Sing, Sing would be in the running. This post is a tribute to that musical gem.

Louis Prima wrote and recorded Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) (hereafter referred to as S3 to save my typing fingers) in 1936. The record was a 78 rpm and ran just a tad longer than four minutes, which was pushing the limit on that medium. Here's Prima's recording, via YouTube: 

I don't know if the original version was a huge hit for Prima, but the song's popularity shifted into high gear when Benny Goodman got hold of it the following year. A fellow named Jimmy Mundy -- a saxophonist who was associated with jazz luminaries such as Count Basie and Lionel Hampton -- created an arrangement for Goodman that extended the tune to almost nine minutes, taking up both sides of a 12-inch 78 rpm platter.

Here's a video of Benny Goodman's orchestra's performance of S3 in the 1937 movie Hollywood Hotel.

I watch this clip and as an exceedingly average clarinetist whose improvisational skills are about as developed as my self-levitation skills, I can't think of a better experience than being one of the sax players sitting behind Goodman during his solo (starting at around the one minute mark). What a gig! 

Now, in 1938 Goodman's orchestra took the stage in Carnegie Hall and the resulting performance of S3 became a part of music lore. This 13-minute version also featured Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet. The piano solo was performed by Jess Stacy, who improvised the riff on the spot, not having been given the spotlight for this tune prior to this concert.

Sidenote: That's Gene Krupa on drums. For you kidwinks who never heard of him, Krupa was likely the first drummer to combine flair and skill and get a showcase in a commercially successful band. He and another somewhat skillful (ha!) drummer named Buddy Rich used to do the dueling drummer thing, much to the delight of audiences. Here's an excerpt from a 1956 interview of both men. It's fascinating reading, especially the part where Rich takes on the so-called "cool music" of the day, and the way he felt it excluded musicians of his ilk:
I have a definite and very set opinions about the so-called modern school of music and drummers. Whereas in the days when it was necessary to swing a band, where a drummer had to be a powerhouse, today more or less the "cool school" has taken over, and I don't believe there's such a thing as a "cool drummer." You either swing a band or don't swing a band and that's what's lacking today. There aren't any guys who get back there and play with any kind of guts. And I like a heavyweight. I'm not a flyweight. I like-in my fighting, I like heavyweights and in my music I like emotionally good, strong heavyweight type of jazz. And it's just lacking today.

And speaking of their drum battles, here's another YouTube clip of one that was broadcast on the Sammy Davis, Jr. Show in 1966. The tune will be recognizable, I think:

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah...S3. Now, while these old recordings are wonderful (and it's truly a blessing that these performances have not been lost), there's really no substitute to hearing this song performed live by a skilled group of musicians. There aren't a lot of venues in our area where you can experience this, but one of them is just 90 miles down the road from where I live, in San Antonio to be exact. 

In the Pearl District, just north of downtown and adjacent to the northern end of the famous River Walk, there's a nightclub/restaurant called Jazz Texas. It features live music every night; during the week the music may range in genre, but on the weekends it's primarily jazz, courtesy of Brent (Doc) Watkins and his orchestra. You can visit Doc's website to see his complete bio, but for our purposes it's sufficient to say that he's one of the most gifted pianists and music arrangers you'll ever encounter, and he surrounds himself with equally gifted musicians. 

In March, 2020 -- just before COVID brought the world to its knees -- Debbie and I spent a weekend in San Antonio, and we spent Saturday night dining at Jazz Texas and enjoying the music. It's a relatively small venue, and while we were seated toward the back of the room, we were still only a few yards away from the band. Suddenly, the signature sound of the drum solo that kicks off a certain song began, and I fired up the iPhone. Here's the result:

I wish I could identify all the individual musicians featured in that video, but I can tell you that the drummer is Brandon Guerra and the incredible clarinetist is Bill King.

(Incidentally, I have strong opinions about people who go to a jazz club and then ignore the music, but I won't share them here.)

If you made it all the way through this screed, thanks for your patience and attention. I suspect that we share an affinity for good music, regardless of genre...but this big band stuff is the bee's knees!

Aging, But Ageless
August 29, 2021 7:13 AM | Posted in:

Note: I'm continuing to re-create posts from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category. This one requires a bit more explanation, because it refers to some things that some of you may not be familiar with, such as one of my previous professions. Also, please don't try to do the math regarding my current age, as I wrote this in May, 2007, and I wouldn't want you to hurt your brain.

Next month, God willing, I'll achieve a certain age-related milestone, one that's traditionally used in our society to signify what might politely be called "the beginning of the downhill slide." From a practical perspective, the only immediate impact I anticipate is the savings of a buck-and-a-quarter at the movies, which is nothing to sneeze at, by the way. 

Still, when I contemplate 55, the overriding reaction is, "I'm not old enough to be that old!" I surely don't feel that old. In fact, I don't feel any different than I did at other "milestone" ages, dating back just about as far as I can remember. 

A few Sundays back, our Bible study was in the first chapter of 2 Peter, which includes a passage (verses 12-15) where Peter tells his readers about the importance of remembering his teachings after he was gone:
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
The teacher paused and said something to the effect that Peter's comment about "living in the tent of this body" was a reminder that we're not purely--or even primarily--physical beings. She then threw out this tantalizing tidbit. "I think that's why we never really view ourselves as being as old as others think we are, or as old as our ages tell us we are." What she was saying is that in our minds and spirits, we're, well, ageless, because that's the part of us that will survive for eternity, long after this body has broken down and returned to dust. Our spirit recognizes this eternal truth, and while we may at times be able to subvert it with emotion and thought, that truth doesn't change. 

Thus it's a gift from God to us, to see ourselves as an ageless being, regardless of what we see in the mirror, and regardless of what our inevitably decaying bodies try to tell us. 

So, youngsters, the next time some old guy--say, an aging web designer (who might still be able to kick your rear on a bike, but that's neither here nor there)--throws out that seemingly lame declaration that he's not as old as he is, keep in mind that it's the truth. And it applies to you, too. 

God's Bubble
August 22, 2021 8:27 PM | Posted in:

Note: I'm continuing to post selected articles from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category (why? because I need the reminders). This one originally showed up in January, 2007.

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. [Psalm 139:1-5 (NIV)]
I think I've mentioned before that when I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was to convert a big appliance box into a tank. You could knock out the ends, get inside, and roll the cardboard "machine" through vacant lots with great abandon, completely protected from the various stickery flora and fauna that inhabited those environs. Of course, you couldn't see where you were going, but you could have fun getting there. 

Those memories came to mind this morning in Sunday School as we dwelt on Psalm 139 as a part of our annual "Sanctity of Life Day" emphasis. Psalm 139 is often chosen for this occasion because it's one of the best reminders of how special each of us is to our Creator, and given that He values life so highly, perhaps we also should take it a little less lightly. 

Anyway, as I pondered verse 5 -- I like the New American Standard translation even better: You have enclosed me behind and before... -- it occurred to me that God's provision is kind of like that cardboard tank...only more so. His protection is absolute, completely enveloping, more like a bubble that is impervious to the worst the world can send our way. 

Sure, we still get hurt, but that's not the point. The important thing to remember is that we're "treasures in earthen vessels," and God will not lose us; we cannot be destroyed by this world, thanks to His bubble of love and grace.
Sorry; I don't know what the post title means either.

Howdy, buckaroos, and happy Thursday to you. Today is, of course, International Bow Day, so feel free to take a bow, look for a [rain]bow, grab a bow (arrows are optional), and hye thyself to the nearest boat bow. Oh, and today is also when we are scheduled to meet at our church to plan the upcoming semester of English As A Second Language (ESL) classes, and I think the preceding sentence shows why such classes are so challenging for the students. (But don't get me started on duplicative reflexive pronouns in Spanish.)

Say, did I mention that there's a photo of a snake in this post? It's actually a really cute, derpy-looking one, but still. 

Debbie and I have recently started watching the syndicated rebroadcasts -- OK, reruns -- of Reba on The Hallmark Channel. Now, before you revoke my Man Card, let me just say three words (or four, if you're -- you are -- not into contractions): it's freakin' hilarious. I don't know why we never watched it before (its six season run ended in 2007), although the fact that it aired first on The WB and later on The CW might explain it; we only watched networks with 3-letter abbreviations. That's a personal moral decision, but feel free to make your own call on this important issue.

Reba McEntire is a fantastic comedic actress (she also does serious, heart-rending drama; I refer you to her serious, heart-rending role in Tremors). And, of course, she's dabbled in a singing career, and sews clothes in her spare time to make ends meet [Ed. That's not remotely true.]. Speaking of singing, Reba is the only sitcom in history where the lead actor also sings the show's theme song. [Ed. That's also not remotely true.] Of course, most people don't realize that Jerry Seinfeld actually played the bass line in his eponymous series [Ed. That's not remotely true; stop it!], but that doesn't require nearly as much skill as singing.

You know, I spent quite a bit of time crafting what I think was a carefully worded and thoughtful assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan. But I've reconsidered posting it. I'm not sure why any of you invest your valuable time to stop by this blog, but I am fairly confident it's not for rants about political issues or world events.

OTOH, I'm not above linking to insightful and eloquent takes on the matter.

Debbie recently discovered why our lone tomato plant was underachieving: tomato horn worms.

Photo - Tomato horn worm on tomato plant
Photo - Tomato horn worm on tomato plant

These caterpillars eventually turn into five-spotted hawk moths, but before they do, they can wreak significant havoc on one's tomato crop. Debbie actually cut ours back to the ground. You might say the surgery was successful, but the patient died.

By the way, these tomato hornworms do have a natural enemy -- braconid wasps -- and the way they kill their prey almost makes you sympathetic to the caterpillars. Experts say that if you run across a caterpillar "infected" with the wasp's "virus," don't kill it...the next generation of wasps that will eventually hatch from the caterpillar's body will provide that much more protection against the next generation of hornworms. Nature can be cool even when she kills.

[Here's where the snake photo comes in...]

Last Sunday afternoon we got more than two inches of rain in less than twenty minutes. The creek rose quickly and the city sent someone out to close the low water crossing. After the rain let up, Debbie and I walked to the crossing down the block from our house to check out the torrent.

As we were turning to go home, something at the edge of the concrete apron caught my eye. It was a water snake, seemingly trying to make some sense out of the raging river that an hour earlier was a placid, slow-moving creek.

Photo - Plain-bellied water snake in the creek
This is a plain-bellied water snake, a non-venomous, relatively common creek- and lake-side dweller whose primary diet is fish, frogs, and salamanders. This one allowed me to get within a few feet before I violated its personal space and it disappeared into the swirling water.

I regret to inform you that on Tuesday of this week, we came across a flattened PBWS in the middle of that same low water crossing. I don't know why it felt the need to cross the road, but it lost the battle with traffic. Was it the same one that I photographed? No way of knowing, but it was a little sad, nonetheless.

In closing, I posted the following photo over on my Instagram feed, and folks seemed to like it, so I thought I'd add it here for those of you who haven't drunk the IG koolaid. It's just a picture of a morning here in the Texas Hill Country.

Peace and grace to you all!

Photo of sunrise through the trees in Horseshoe Bay, Texas
This post is dedicated to mi amigo bueno who, along with his lovely bride, was scheduled to attend this event with Debbie and me. Unfortunately, they both came down with COVID a couple of weeks earlier and thus had to bow out (they're recovering nicely now; thanks for asking). I promised him a report, and I figured as long as I was doing it for him, I might as well get some blogging mileage out of it.

Beer By The Bay (BBTB) is an annual two-day music festival organized by the Horseshoe Bay Resort in Central Texas (about 50 miles from Austin). This year's event was the eighth in the series; last year's was canceled for unknown reasons. Just kidding; we all know why.

Debbie and I have attended four or five of these festivals, and we've heard some great performers, including Asleep At The Wheel, Jo Dee Messina, Roger Creager, Pat Green, and LeeAnn Rimes. Most of the music falls firmly in the country genre, although in past years there have been a sprinkling of pop, funk, and rock/blues acts.

This year's lineup was mostly country; there was one act that defied categorization...more on that later. Below, in lovely photographic form, is the lineup. (It's obvious that I didn't go out of my way to get the perfect photo with my phone; if you want better pictures, visit their respective websites.)

Friday's Musical Lineup

Photo collage of Beer By The Bay performers on Friday

Canadian-born Whitney Rose is based in Austin and is a regular at The Continental Club in that weird city. According to Wikipedia, she has toured with The Mavericks (one of my favorite bands) and has a guitar named Aggie, so she has that going for her. 

Fronted by Zane Williams (a performer at a previous BBTB, albeit with a different band), The Wilder Blue was perhaps our favorite act of this year's festival.  With harmonies as tight as groups such as The Eagles and CSN&Y -- you may have heard of those guys -- they brought a touch of bluegrass plus solid country music to the event.

The last act of the evening was Bob Schneider. Schneider is another Austin-based musician, and he's the performer I mentioned whose music sort of defies characterization. We made it through two-and-a-half songs, then called it a night...just not our musical cup o'tea. (FWIW, we visited with some professed Bob Schneider fans the next night who deemed the performance disappointing, albeit for reasons not shared.)

Saturday's Musical Lineup

Photo collage of Beer By The Bay performers on Saturday

The BBTB gates opened earlier on Saturday so we were treated to one extra group.

Texan Holly Tucker opened the show. You might remember her from season four (2013) of The Voice, where she got a four-chair turn, landed on Blake Shelton's team, and made the final six in that competition. Tucker and her band put on a great show, and her traditional finale of How Great Thou Art elicited a standing ovation from the crowd.

Fort Worth singer/songwriter David Adam Byrnes was up next. (I couldn't help wondering if he uses his full name to keep from being confused with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.) Byrnes was born in Arkansas, spent part of his career in the Nashville music scene, and then came to his senses by ditching the bro-country and moving to Texas to focus on more traditional honky-tonk. He's had five consecutive #1 songs on Texas Country Radio, and he and his band provided our favorite music of the evening. How can you go wrong with songs like Beer Bucket List and lyrics like "I'm on an alcoholiday"?

The next act is going to take some diplomatic 'splaining. We've seen The Derailers multiple times before in various dance halls, and they had become one of our favorite bands. So, we were enthusiastic evangelists to our friends at BBTB who didn't know the band, urging them not to miss Saturday night's performance.  I'm not sure how to put this, so I'll just quote one of those friends who walked up to where I was sitting and asked this question: "Are they having an off night?"

I have no idea what was going on with the lead vocalist and guitarist. He spent the first ten minutes of the set tuning his guitar while the rest of the band bravely soldiered on with instrumental music (they were terrific, btw, but still...). Even after he seemed to get things back on track, he put on one of the most uninspiring performances we've ever seen, and it was pretty embarrassing to think that we'd hyped them so much to various friends. To its credit, the crowd never booed, but the sparse half-hearted applause at the end of the set was an obvious contrast to the reactions for the other acts of the evening. I'd be really surprised if they get invited back to BBTB.

The headliner act for the evening, and, really, for the whole festival was Sara Evans. You've probably heard of Evans, as she's won multiple awards through the years for her music, which tends toward the pop side of country (as evidenced by having seven records cross over to the Billboard Top 40 pop charts). She brought the slickest show to the stage, with two backup singers (one of which was her daughter), two lead guitarists, and all the other usual instrumentalists. As you can see by the photo above, she got the crowd on its feet and, um, crowding the stage (making it pretty hard for the folks on the front five or six rows to see what was going on). Howsomeever...as with Bob Schneider the previous night, her musical style just isn't our favorite, and, once again, we headed home, mid-set. Not her fault at all, just different strokes for...well, you know.

So, BBTB was, for us, primarily about the music, which seemed to be all over the map, quality-wise, this year. But it was also about the food and the beer.

About a dozen Texas breweries had booths dispensing samples of their wares. One might think that a music festival offering unlimited free beer* would be plagued by all sorts of bad behavior; one would be wrong in the case of BBTB. In fact, in all of our years of attendance, only one episode required police intervention, and that was in 2019. I'm not saying there weren't instances of overindulgence; I'm sure there were, but they didn't result in any public disruptions that I'm aware of. 

The food, like the music, varied in quality. We thought the Friday offerings -- which skewed to the barbecue end of cuisine trend line -- were superior to those on Saturday, which were more Germanesque. Below, I've posted a couple of collages showing most of the food choices and my totally subjective-but-still-authoritative star ratings for each item.

*Totally free...well, not counting the $149 - $199 per pass entry fee.

Friday's Food Lineup

Photo collage of Beer By The Bay food booths on Friday

I left out the watermelon salad booth, because I don't like watermelon and this is my blog (but Debbie thought it was delightful). By the way, the references to "Bad Donkey" don't refer to any ingredients; I think that's the Resort's internal branding of its barbecue offerings.

Saturday's Food Lineup

Photo collage of Beer By The Bay food booths on Saturday

As with Friday's lineup, I left out the beet salad (and this time, Debbie was in agreement), because I don't like beets and you know the rest. Also, the sign said it contained "local goat," and while I'm pretty sure they inadvertently omitted "cheese," I didn't want to take a chance. Our local goats deserve a better fate.

Now, Saturday may have fallen a bit short of Friday in the area of food, but the dessert was a home run. The beer battered blond brownies were State Fair of Texas worthy, IYKWIM.

Overall, this was not our best BBTB experience. The COVID Delta surge had something to do with that; some of the usual amenities weren't available this year, and that's understandable. And it could certainly be the case that some of the performers that were crowd favorites in the past were no longer available (or weren't yet comfortable in getting back on stage). Yet the crowds were big and enthusiastic, and I suspect that, in spite of the challenges, BBTB was probably a success for The Resort.  2022 will surely be even better.

Professional Thanksgiver: Could you do it?
August 15, 2021 7:35 PM | Posted in:

Note: I'm continuing to post selected articles from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category (why? because I need the reminders). This one originally showed up in July, 2006.

I read the last two chapters of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah this morning, as a part of my annual "Read Through the Bible" program, and ran across this passage:
And the Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving, he and his brothers. [Neh. 12:8, NAS]
The book of Nehemiah (along with its companion, Ezra) is the account of the efforts by the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple following their destruction by invading armies. Nehemiah served as the wine taster (cupbearer) for King Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who permitted Nehemiah to travel to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the walls of the city. The Lord's favor upon the Jewish people is seen clearly throughout this account, as even pagan royalty provides resources and protection for their efforts. 

Anyway, the passage quoted above is not important in the overall scheme of things, but it still caught my imagination. Talk about a focused job description: "You're going to be in charge of the singing, but not of just any songs. Nope; you're in charge of the songs of thanks." 

I'll admit that I have no idea if Mattaniah was supposed to write those songs, or catalog them, or sing them, or lead the choir in their singing, but the passage is loose enough to make one think that perhaps it's all of the above. And I wonder...how would you do that? It would seem that in order to fulfill this responsibility, one would have to live in a constant state of appreciation of one's blessings. That's hard to do even during the most pleasant and least stressful of times. I daresay that we don't even recognize that we've been in those times until things get worse, at which point we're even less inclined to give thanks. 

Living with a persistent attitude of gratitude is not easy for most of us to do, but it's important enough that even the angels in heaven make it a priority. Maybe we need to try to incorporate it into our life's "job description," as well.