Bennington / North Adams

Spaceship!Every year the band Wilco hosts and headlines Solid Sound, a three day music festival held in and around the ground of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (known also as MASS MoCA).  The Museum is located a decent drive west of Boston in the town of North Adams and is an interesting site made up of 19th Century factory buildings.  Having never seen Wilco live and relishing the opportunity to leave Boston and explore  some more of Massachusetts, I found a partner in crime and we headed west for the weekend.  Much of the accommodation in the area was booked out, so I settled on booking a place ina charming little town called Bennington, which is actually in the state of Vermont, just over the border.  Apart from some nice scenery, followed by a down-pour and some extremely foggy conditions towards the end, the drive was pleasant and unremarkable.

Conditions were perfect on the Saturday morning of the festival and upon arriving  I could tell this was going to be a fairly different experience to the craziness of other festivals I’d been to that year.  Families were in abundance, kids and prams were everywhere and this was definitely an older crowd compared to something like the dance-crazy Good Vibrations I went to in Sydney this year.  I didn’t recognise any other acts on the line-up, apart from Liam Finn, who I eventually worked out is the son of Neil Finn from Split Enz.
Art . . .It was a pretty relaxed atmosphere and just as much time was spent listening to music as exploring the art gallery itself.  There was a decent selection of food and drink and a few beers were enjoyed while strolling between the different stages.  Being a museum of contemporary art, there was a fair amount of variety in the works being displayed, with some extremely large installations on display.  On impressive example filled an entire room in the form of huge white spikes protruding out of multi-coloured rocks dirt looking like something out of an alien invasion movie.  As well, what looked to be an old camper van with space-shuttle like panels attached and a parachute was suspended high on a metal walkway several stories up.  Upon climbing up and entering the vehicle, the inside looking like a retro-fitted space-ship where someone had lived for a number of years, complete with a large book collection and interesting assortment of personal effects.  There were also the abstract art, coloured lines and patterns spread across a wall, some photography and a T.V. displaying a chess game with audio commentary, a display which seemed to confuse most observers.

For the most part, I think I enjoyed exploring the art museum more than most of the acts that played!  Wilco put on a good show, despite a slight delay due to a torrential down-pour in the late afternoon and played a long set late into the night covering the breadth of their career, much of which I was unfamiliar with.  Overall though, it was a great weekend and an enjoyable 6th music festival for the year!

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Boston

Ariel Rubin - Live at the Burren!Arriving in Boston hung-over on a rather uncomfortable, but mostly slept through bus-ride from New York, I hit Boston’s bus station ready to off-load my baggage as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, my eagerness to get to my accommodation and relax coupled with a mis-communication resulted in me missing my cousin Ariel and her boyfriend Steve at the bus stop.  Nonetheless, they did find me eventually and I was shown to their apartment in Cambridge where I soon collapsed onto the bed in their spare room.  Little did I realise at the time was that this was going to be my base of operations for the next few months.

The main reason for my rush to Boston from New York was to see Ariel perform live, my first opportunity to see such a performance and I wasn’t disappointed.  Heading over that evening to The Burren, an Irish pub not far from where I was staying, I experienced first-hand a performance by Ariel Rubin (www.arielrubin.com) with her band.  I was not disappointed and found the live renditions of the songs I’d already heard from her first album and upcoming E.P. preview to be as good, if not better, than what I expected!  The title track from her upcoming E.P. Big Spoon was particularly moving and while she certainly didn’t sell-out the venue, it was a decent turn-out and a good crowd.

Thanks to Steve some regular exercise was commenced, with runs around the historic Harvard University several times a week, which went a good way to balancing my continued alcohol consumption.  The main reason for the continued partying was the sports-fueled atmosphere of the city which was being fed by the ice-hockey finals – the Boston Bruins playing off against the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup.  Nights out consisted of beer, pizza and loud cheering, with a particularly memorable night being the 7th game play-off where the Bruins won and took the trophy, much to the excitement of everyone in the bar at the time.  That weekend I attended the parade feeling extremely hung-over (no thanks to an impromptu pub-crawl with an old school mate Marty Armstrong the night before) and despite the heat and a pounding headache, saw the Bruins and the cup parade through the city of Boston surrounded by thousands of cheering fans.

The Bruins Parade

Thanks to my efforts constructing our family tree, Ariel and I also managed to connect with some extended family, taking the form of Joyce and Lev Friedman and their three daughters, Shoshana, Ari and Mia, all 3rd cousins of ours!  We joined them for dinner out in the suburb of Waban, a bit of a trek on the train-line, but well worth the effort thanks to their generous hospitality, fantastic cooking and impromptu music sing-along!  Connecting with some more family was a rewarding experience for us and even better for Ariel, provided the potential for more contacts in the Boston music scene.  Whilst out in Waban on another visit I also visited Barry’s, a well known Jewish deli right by the train station and enjoyed a tasty seafood sandwich.

In Boston I also finally managed to engage in some couch-surfing, being hosted for the first time by John, a Buddhist developer living in Cambridge who graciously offered me his futon for two nights and introduced me to an excellent local Ethiopian restaurant.  I decided Boston was a fun city and since Ariel and Steve’s spare room was available until the end of August, I decided to stop travelling for awhile to re-assess my finances.  Half my luggage however was still in Los Angeles, therefore I flew back for another quick visit to collect it and also participate in a family 4th July BBQ.

New York

Lobby of the Empire State BuildingI dove into New York with very little forward planning.  I had a general feeling that I’d been spending too much money so far on my trip, but after having free accommodation in Seattle and Chicago, was willing to let loose a bit more in New York.  As is generally the case with travel however, not booking ahead, especially somewhere like New York, is a costly mistake.  Therefore, when I landed in New York, I ended up with only one night’s accommodation in a hostel in Brooklyn, which was going to cost me about double that of a similar hostel in San Francisco.

Landing at the airport, I quickly discovered that my public transport options were limited and cumbersome, therefore decided on a taxi.  As it turns out, many taxis don’t know their way around Brooklyn and despite me giving my Indian cab-driver the exact address, our mission was still drawn out and frustrating.  Having no map or clue as to where he was going, I found myself being driven around Brooklyn for the first time after midnight for at least an hour while the taxi driver made numerous attempts to find my hostel.  Much to my annoyance, this often involved getting out of the taxi while it was still running, hopping into a convenience store to ask for directions, all while leaving the taxi illegally parked.

In the end I made it to my accommodation and checked in, luckily the hostel turned out to be spacious, clean and internet enabled.  I didn’t know how long I was going to be staying in New York for but was determined to make the most of it.  There was no question in my mind where I was going the first day – it had to be Manhattan.  I first took advantage of the free breakfast supplied by the hostel and despite my travel-weariness soon found myself striking up a conversation with the other random travelers at my breakfast table.  One of them, Damon, was visiting from Canada and as it turns out was an aspiring stand-up comic who was going to be performing that night.

We decided to hang out and hit the city to check out Ground Zero, grab some burgers from a New York fast-food restaurant (not the best I’ve had, but not half bad either) and duck into The Empire State Building for a quick photo (we were both feeling too cheap to actually pay to go up the top).  In the evening I joined Damon at The Laugh Factory, a comedy club on the East Side, to see him and some other amateur stand-ups perform.  It was a great night and for amateurs, the quality definitely exceeded my expectations, there were a few flops, but nothing too devastating.

New York BuildingTalking with some of the performers afterwards was also interesting, none of them were yet at the stage where they could make a living solely as comedians, so many were struggling to make ends meet by working in hospitality so they could afford to live in a city like New York.  They all wanted to succeed as comics, but looking at the sheer number of them performing that night, which was only one of the three shows at that particular comedy club, its easy to see how much competition there was.  Also of note that night was an encounter with some girls from New Jersey and whilst none were as despicable as the characters on the terrible Jersey Shore, it was very easy to spot the Jersey accent on one of them!  How there can be a difference between the “New York” and “New Jersey” accents, when only a river separates the two areas is quite astounding!

The direct train from Brooklyn to Manhattan from my hostel wasn’t running over the weekend, so the next day I took it easy exploring a bit of the Brooklyn area.  That night consisted of a trip to nearby Williamsberg with another assortment of random party goers from the hostel, including an interesting but highly entertaining long-haired Californian called PJ who always carried a Ghostbusters bag on him.  After another big night out, that was it for my first New York experience, since the expensive hostel was draining my money and I was having no luck couchsurfing the area, I decided to take the bus up to Boston, the last planned stop on my U.S. itinerary to hang out with my cousin Ariel and her boyfriend Steve!