Personal Log, Wintergrass 2017


At the very last second, everything worked out for me to go to Wintergrass this year: the huge indoor bluegrass festival held at the Hyatt in Bellevue every year. These are some of my thoughts and experiences on the concerts and workshops. Buckle your seatbelts, this is going to be a long trip. It’s the closest thing I can manage to taking you to Wintergrass 2017 with me!


True North: a semi-local bluegrass/Americana band. Took us for a ride through all sorts of emotions. I think my favorites were the song they’d written about the festival’s move from Tacoma to Bellevue and how it’s a tough place for bluegrass songs (chorus: “it’s a hard place to suffer, and that really gets me down”), and this tear-jerker:
Be Here Now

Kruger Brothers! As I recall, they started out with a portion of Jens’ Appalachian Concerto. At Wintergrass, of course, it was just the three musicians–Jens Kruger, Uwe Kruger, and their bass player Joel Landsberg. But somehow they *still* sound like an orchestra. Exceptional musicians in every way. And a beautiful composition by Jens.

The Kruger Brothers & Kontras Quartet – Appalachian Concerto

Uwe also did People Get Ready, which is a crowd pleaser. We were pleased.

Kruger Brothers – People Get Ready

Darlingside – not entirely sure how to categorize these guys! Eagles meets Simon and Garfunkel meets I dunno? They sing tight harmony around a single mic, but are more folk rock than bluegrass. They used a kick drum and a loop pedal and build their songs up to a swirling crescendo that will drag you in. I’m not sure I entirely get their lyrics, and that usually means I don’t care for the band/artist, but their sound is so pretty!

Darlingside – White Horses


John McEuen did an audio visual presentation on the history and backstory of the famous Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, starting with the history of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and continuing through the recording of the album itself. There were all SORTS of archival photos and clips and anecdotes, interwoven with live performances of some of the songs by the John McEuen Trio. So, so well done. Some people asked hopefully about a DVD version, but it sounds like it might not be possible. John McEuen *is* however working on a book covering the information, with lots of the pictures and all. It will hopefully be out next year.

Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore Family Band. I’d heard Mollie and Rich before a few times, including at little ol’ Traditions down here in Olympia, WA. Man, what a voice she has! Powerful. And he’s pretty nifty on guitar and harmony vocals. This time around, they had two daughters with them, leading to some tremendous family harmonies. I don’t see any of their family performances out there on the Interweb, but they do have an album! It’s called Daughters. Anyhow, here’s Mollie and Rich: Mollie O’Brien + Rich Moore – Train Home

Jeremy Kittel Band: these are one of the groups that helped support the whole “Bach to Bluegrass” theme this year. For any who loved The Goat Rodeo Sessions–taking bluegrass or Celtic tinged music and classical-fying or jazzing it up a bit, you need to check this group out. Virtuosos. Also one of the few hammered dulcimers I’ve seen at Wintergrass, and who doesn’t love that?

The Jeremy Kittel Band – Irish Tunes

Hot Rize: What can I say? This was my first time seeing my favorite ever bluegrass band live, and they didn’t disappoint. So much fun. Also, Bryan Sutton may be the best flatpicker in the world.

Hot Rize – Western Skies

Caitlyn Canty: wasn’t entirely sure how to take her stage presence/persona. Great voice. Her songs are lyrically rich–so many vivid images crammed in. Overall, not entirely to my taste, but she’s talented and I’m glad I saw her.

Caitlyn Canty – Get Up

The Kruger Brothers, Part Two: they were ON for that performance. Joking around, pushing one another, taking everything as far and as high and as deep as it would go, and it was magical. Every Wintergrass has a few moments that take on mythical proportions for me. This year, this was it.

Kruger Brothers – Beautiful Nothing

We were in the Cedar ballroom where they were broadcasting live via Concert Window. Now I really wish I could go back in time and tell ALL THE PEOPLE to watch. C’est la vie.

The Kruger Brothers ran late because they could (as Uwe pointed out with a big grin, they were the last act on that stage for the night), but as soon as they got out, I jogged over to the WAMA suite to hopefully catch at least a little of Kathy Barwick and Pete Siegfried‘s act. I was hoping against hop that they’d to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” when I was there, and when I walked in, Pete was introducing it. Further proof that someone loves me. I’ve heard a lot of people do that song, but I’m not kidding when I say their version is my favorite by a good bit. Pete has a marvelously expressive voice, nicely completmented by Kathy’s tasteful guitar picking and his own mandolin. I don’t think it’s out there in YouTube land. You’ll have to buy their Long Time Gone album. But here’s something of theirs to tide you over.

Barwick and Siegfried – Dusty Diamonds


Turtle Island Quartet: They can’t really be categorized, but essentially they are all fabulous classically trained musicians who do everything from classical to jazz in the form of a fairly traditional classical quartet: first and second violin, viola, cello. (This is the only thing traditional about them.) I am surprised we didn’t listen to them growing up, honestly–I think Dad would enjoy them if he doesn’t already know about them. Very fine musicians.

Turtle Island Quartet – All Along the Watchtower

Flatt Lonesome: this was about as traditional bluegrass as I went all weekend. As they put it, mostly a family band: twin brother and sister (he on guitar and she on fiddle), their older sister (mandolin), her husband on banjo, and then Dobro and bass. The Robertsons did the vocals, and man oh man, what vocals! 
Flatt Lonesome – You’re the One

Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg: these two were a big, big pull for me. I’m a big fan of classical music, and Caterina is one of the very best classical mandolinists in the world today. Mike Marshall, for his part, has brought classical music to a lot of bluegrass musicians. The two of them met and fell in love at a Mandolin Symposium a few years back, have two adorable little girls, and despite very, very different musical backgrounds, make beautiful music together. Which I enjoyed tremendously. As I said at the time, it made me want to play classical mandolin SO MUCH, but I think it would take decades to get there. Very complex music.

Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall – Bach Gigue in D Minor


Sierra Hull. She is so young, and yet has been a known musician so long, it’s hard to get your head around it. She’s a powerhouse. I got to see her live at Traditions a few months back. I confess, I think my favorite song of hers this time was Mad World, during which she fingerpicked a ’64 Mandocaster. What this says about my taste, I dunno. But man, this is good.

Sierra Hull – Mad World

Tim O’Brien, as in lead singer/mandolinist from Hot Rize and brother of Mollie O’Brien. Very good performance. Do wish he’d played more banjo, but ya know, you can’t have it all, but YouTube does, pretty much.

Tim O’Brien – You Were on My Mind

Oh, and at the end of Tim’s set, a bit of a dream come true for me: I love Mollie and Tim’s voices together, but I’d only ever heard them in recordings. For years I’d hoped they’d sing on stage together when I was there, and finally it happened!

The Wintergrass Youth Orchestra closed things out. Such a cool concept. Mostly they are local middle schoolers, and they work all year to prepare for this performance. Some of the performers volunteered their time to perform with them, so they did music with The Turtle Island Quartet, Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg, Tim O’Brien…and some others after we took off, though they were winding down. Really neat to see!

Kids are Scary

Kids are so awesome and so scary. Everything is new and everything is meaningful, and *that* is awesome and scary.

I mean, you and I can’t remember what we had for breakfast last Sunday, but kids…kids, you never know if that bagel you buy them, the bagel you only buy them because you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to sit down for breakfast at the house, that bagel could become The Bagel, the one bagel to which all future bagels will be compared, the bagel they will remember to their dying day as The Bagel of All Bagels.

Or, alternatively, you don’t know if you’re going to blurt something impatiently and, likewise, they’ll remember those words for the rest of their lives, in all their darkest moments.

I love my nieces and nephews, and I hope some of the experiences we have together are good memories they carry forever. At the same time, I feel like any time spent with kids is such a huge responsibility. I love it, and I’m awed by it, and I am slightly terrified, too.

Maybe that’s a teeny slice of what parents experience. I can hardly imagine. Whew.

Pirkka Rinkeli

Resolved 2017

It’s a little late for New Year’s Resolutions, but c’mon, is the chaos of Christmas season and its aftermath really the best time to think about goals? I usually need a break and some reflection, and this year has been no exception.

But here are my resolutions in a nutshell:

Pare down, use up, put away.

I feel like I spent a lot of the last decade acquiring. I have stacks of empty notebooks. I have odd ingredients I bought for a recipe but then forgot about, which I really should use before they expire. I have pens and pencils and ink. I have clothing I bought (from Goodwill generally, but still) and put in a drawer, forgotten.

I declare 2017 the year of living inexpensively. There will always be cool new limited edition notebooks and pens and boots and that. I have more than I can use anytime soon.

I also want to clear out the things I don’t use or need–a surprising amount made the cut in spite of my move, and while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a few sentimental objects, I can proooobably at least let go of that old bluetooth headset I haven’t used in six years and which doesn’t charge. It’s a bit daunting to go through every drawer and closet, but exhilarating as well.

I’m also realizing one of the reasons I’m so challenged by order is that I keep treating symptoms rather than disease. The reason I end up with jackets strewn all over creation just might be because there’s no coat rack. If I brought the hamper in from the garage and used it without the stoopid flippy lid I hate so much, maybe there wouldn’t be dirty clothes on the bathroom and bedroom floor. If I put away the winter clothes in the spring and vice versa (after all, I have an attic now!), maybe I’d have enough room to keep all my clothes and blankets and sheets in the dresser where they belong.

It’s all going to take some effort. Building some habits. Establishing new routines. Maybe avoiding certain temptations. But just thinking about it makes me feel freer.

So off we go.

Random February

I am inordinately fond of this face.img_20170203_092448_746

This one is pretty cute, too.


Currently reading:
1. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic is fascinating, but also scary and sad. It mostly traces the rise of opiate addiction stemming from prescription drugs, and the changing face of drug dealing that partly fueled and partly followed that addiction. As someone from an area (rural Vermont) that really didn’t have much in the way of drug abuse when I was a kid but where there is now a startling rise in overdose deaths, , this was an eye opener.

2. (Much more uplifting!) The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I’m not all that far into it, but so far it’s pulling at my heart and mind in all sorts of ways. On top of the heartbreaking personal challenges faced by the rower on which the author spends the most time (Joe Rantz), I’m captivated by the local connections: seeing Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula as they were during the depression and leading up to WWII. As someone who didn’t grow up in the area, it can be easy to forget how young civilization really is here, how recently it became a center of culture and technology, how shaped it was by logging and fishing and other more rugged enterprises.

Currently up to: aside from reading and some clawhammer banjoing, mostly cleaning off some devices to sell: my old phone and my computer. In part, this is to pay for…


When I bought my house, it was a fade-into-the-sky-stormy-slate color, which wasn’t terrible, but since the paint was chipping and cracked in places, I needed to  get it painted anyway. After much consideration, I switched to TARDIS blue (AKA Sherwin Williams Honorable Blue). And I love it. I LOVE IT. I’m broke, but my house is so pretty!

I suppose the guy across the street might frown on my bringing out a chair to sit on his lawn so I can admire the outside of my own house as I read this weekend, too broke to do much else.

But it’s tempting, I admit.