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FREEWHEELIN' IN NEW YORK
Day One - July 29, 2011
>  link to photo album

I have been wanting to cross Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble in Woodstock off of my to do list for many years now, and Julie also had some relatives she has never met in New York, so we decided to just pull the trigger on a weekend excursion.   We have both been busy with work and gigs, but we did manage to make some well-researched last minute travel arrangements and reservations. 

We got the flight and concert tickets confirmed, and on Thursday night after work I finished off a detailed itinerary of classic dive bars and dining so we wouldn't waste any of our short time in the area.  I mapped it out on Google so we could walk a clearly laid out route from Grand Central Station to Chelsea and into Greenwich Village and cover some cool points of interest along the way.

On Friday we left Austin on a 6am American Airlines flight.  It connected in Dallas and was delayed on the runway for an hour.   We landed at La Guardia around 2pm and caught the NYCAirporter shuttle to Grand Central.  The first stop was for some big meaty sandwiches at Bloom's Deli at 40th and Lexington Ave.  From there we walked down 42nd street to Times Square and had a quick beer at Jimmy's Corner, a tiny bar and boxing shrine near W 44th st and 6th Ave. 

We caught the #1 subway to 28th st and 7th Ave and walked to our airbnb.com apartment, which turned out to be a sleek and swanky loft with big picture windows over a courtyard on 23rd st.  After a brief pit stop there, we walked west, past the Upright Citizen theatre to 10th Ave, where we climbed the stairs to the High Line parkway, a lushly landscaped new terrace park built on an obsolete rail line with great modern architecture and indigenous greenery.

At 15th street, we went down to the Chelsea Market, where there are rows of new fancy bakeries, wine stores and upscale organic markets, with an amazing classic rock photography exhibition by Dick Waterman.  From there we walked down Eighth avenue to the White Horse Tavern, and drank a pint to its most famous patron Dylan Thomas. 

We took W. 4th St east from there to Jones St, and took a picture on the same block as the cover of Freewheelin', while the rain started to sprinkle down.  We saw Dylan and Suze's first apartment at 161 W. 4th St., saw Cafe Wha, the site of Dylan's first time on stage in NYC, at 115 Macdougal and 3rd st.  We went past Dylan’s 70s era Apartment at 94 MacDougal and then watched a band set up at the Gaslight Cafe at 116 MacDougal St.  We stopped in to the Little Lebowski shop, and then we headed down Bleecker St past the Bitter End, detoured north a couple of blocks to Washington Square Park, and then east to Bleecker and Bowery, the former site of CBGB, now a John Varvatos boutique boot store. 

We walked north past the Great Jones soul food cafe, which was too crowded to attempt, and turned onto St. Mark's Place.   We stopped and took pictures of the Physical Graffiti building at 96 E. 8th, and then dined at Odessa on Ave A at 7th.  From there we walked around Tompkins Square Park, saw a Joe Strummer mural and some supersize rodents,  and found the Lakeside Lounge at 10th and Ave. B where we met old pal Jonny Myers for a drink and watched the band for a few songs.  We walked past the Horseshoe Bar to Manitoba's where we admired the endless collection of punk era photos.   Austin poster legend Billy Bishop appeared out of nowhere and tipped us off that DJ Johnathan Toubin was spinning at his own New York Night Train birthday party all night at a club on Houston St.

We stopped into Joe's Bar, but the jukebox playing Santana wasn't living up to its honkytonk reputation, so we walked past the closed Porchetta sandwich place on E. 7th and decided to grab dessert at the dusky and romantic Frank on 2nd ave at 5th st.  We called to get on the list at Please Don't Tell, the secret St. Mark's social club, but they never got back to us.  As we crossed Houston St and walked up to the throng of hipsters at the door of Home Sweet Home, DJ Toubin came out and grabbed us and showed us through the door.  We danced to the old school 45s in the basement and cooled off in the white brick lodge room and art gallery upstairs, before heading back to Chelsea on the F train.  Walking back to the apartment we ducked into O'Reilly's pub on W. 31st to use the facilities and then we walked back to 26th St and called it a night. 

pink
RAMBLING IN WOODSTOCK
Day Two - July 30, 2011
>  link to photo album

Saturday morning we departed from our sweet Chelsea digs, caught the #1 train at 23rd St and 7th Ave to 42nd St station.  The 7 line to Grand Central was under construction, so we had to catch a different shuttle train across town.  Some nice subway cop ladies buzzed us back in the gate without having to pay again.  While following the maze of tunnels, I spotted Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo scurrying down the hall.   At Grand Central, we quickly bought tickets and just made the 11:40 Metro North train to Poughkeepsie.   The train went through the Bronx and we caught a tiny glimpse of Yankee Stadium, and then we were right alongside the truly scenic Hudson River for the rest of the trip.

We caught a cab at the historic Poughkeepsie train station and drove 3 miles to pick up a rental car at Avis on IBM road.  We drove across the Mid-Hudson Bridge, saw the Hudson Walkway and caught Hwy 9 N to Kingston.  A friendly local in a pickup led us over the old iron bridge to Wurts St.  We pulled up in front of one of a few old churches on the block.   It took a few minutes to figure out the gate latch, but once we were in the beautiful courtyard, it was obvious we had found a very special place on airbnb.com.    Peter and Julie welcomed us graciously into their converted chapel space and we rested for a few minutes after a brief home tour.  Our corner loft room had high ceilings and gorgeous stained glass windows.  

After a quick detour to the Rondout Creek strand of restaurants by the water near the chapel,  we decided to wait and eat later.  We took Hwys 28 and 375 into the Woodstock Village, where we parked and walked around for awhile.  We stopped at the Bread Alone bakery and admired the Elliot Landy autographed album cover photos.  We ate at the Landau Grill across the street, where Julie got a voicemail saying our Hotel Chelsea rooms reserved for Sunday night had been canceled due to the sudden sale of the property.  We walked to a couple of hippie memorabilia shops and took a photo on the steps of a former bakery that also appears in the Landy collection.   The famed photographer had extended an invitation to meet with us but there was not time to devote a proper amount of time so we declined until the next trip.



We drove west to Bearsville colony, and turned north on Streibel Rd, speculating which of the winding turns was the one that changed the course of rock music forever.  We circled back a few miles to the other side of the village off Hwy 212 and Stoll Rd, where some friendly locals pointed us to Parnassus Lane.  As we wound our way up the narrow dirt drive, we rounded a corner and marveled at the sight of Big Pink, the house with the most famous basement in music history.  The owners were having a cookout and came out from the backyard to greet us warmly, visit with is for a few minutes and take our pictures. 

We headed back into the village and turned on Plochmann Rd, and eventually into Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble driveway, where helpful security got us checked in after a slight glitch in the box office system.   The parking attendant gave us a tip on where to stand for the show, on the rail right above the stage.  The queue was just being allowed into the barn, and we briefly looked over the potluck spread and the t-shirts before finding our perch.  The studio was a glorious 3 level barn with an awesome sound array and a vintage microphone package to rival any major studio.  I could tell from the stage setup we were going to have a great view of the musicians.  We watched the crew make last minute adjustements, and a little after 8 an MC gave a few ground rules and introduced Ray Wylie Hubbard, who served up an engaging 40 minute set of his road-tested songs and stories, accompanied by drummer Ric Richards and capped off with a sing along of a reluctant "Redneck Mother."  

After a 20 minute break, the Ramble house band musicians filed in one at a time to a sustained ovation, and then Levon entered the barn, shaking hands and smiling ear to ear.  Without a word, they kicked it off big with This Wheel's on Fire.  Our perch was just a few feet from the drum throne, and Levon was facing us and grinning up toward our section during the whole show. The set included many soaring blues and gospel standards courtesy of soul sisters Amy Helm and Teresa Williams, and a few choice basement classics, including a drop dead version of Goin to Acapulco sung passionately by bassist Byron Isaacs, a dramatic Volver, Volver, and the Band classics Remedy and Lonesome Suzie.  Special guest and Dylan duo partner Happy Traum sat in on a Leadbelly 12 string style In the Pines, and the whole show wrapped up with Ray Wylie and the gang carrying The Weight.  The whole time, Levon was silently cheering each member of the ensemble as they took turns showcasing their talent, and at the end, he raised every band member's hand up high and embraced them all.  It was a truly great end to an unbelievable day.


globe
QUEENS FOR A DAY
Day 3 - July 31, 2011
>  link to photo album

 
Back in Kingston Sunday morning, we awoke from a blissful sleep in our chapel loft to some quite lovely sounds.  Our host Peter's piano was wafting up from his studio and mixing with the strains of a gospel choir in the tabernacle across the street.   Host Julie's spread of fruit, yogurt, bread pudding, omelettes and coffee was a great way to start what was to be a remarkable day.

We drove back to Poughkeepsie on Hwy 9S, and the rental car people gave us a free ride back to the train station, where we walked down to the riverfront and sampled chowders at River Station restaurant patio before boarding the train.   We took in the view of the Hudson as the train made its way back into the Bronx and left us back in Grand Central.   We walked into the grand concourse and met Julie's relatives by the big clock.   From there we all walked down 5th Ave, past the Library and the Empire State Building, and found Eataly, the huge Italian market at 24th and 5th Ave.  There was an Afghani-American festival going on in Madison Square park and we walked around a little before braving the crowd in the market.  We rode the elevator to the top and walked out on to the roof and were seated at Birreria, a brewery and gastropub with an amazing view of the Flatiron building and the Empire State Building.  We had salads, salamis, and cappuccino, and after biscotti and great conversation, we went back down for gelato and a walk back up to Times Square, where we caught the re-routed subway to Queens.

Johnny Myers met us near the 82nd st. station around 8 and walked us back to his lovely Jackson Heights flat.  We rested for a few minutes and shot the breeze, and then we got in his car and drove around to some more sights.  We passed the site of the 1964 worlds fair in Flushing and saw the giant iron globe illuminated in the distance.  We drove by his high school where the Ramones, Simon and Garfunkel and Bacharach all attended,  and stopped to grab a treat at the Lemon Ice King of Corona and watch Bocce Ball in the park.  On the way home, he drove us by the Forest Hills tennis stadium, a few blocks from his childhood home and the site of some of the first concerts by the Beatles, The Who and Dylan.   Back at his pad we played along with Nashville Skyline and chilled with his big 5 toed cat Coltrane.

In the morning we walked to the neighborhood coffeeshop and acoustic gig venue Espresso 77, met a few of his neighborhood buddies, did some shopping at an incredible Indian market Butala Emporium, had blintzes and eggs at City Coffee, and then called a $10 local town car service to La Guardia.





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