Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hot... Hot... Hot

Summer doesn't officially start until June 21, but the weather in The Crescent City would suggest that summer is here and here to stay.

I return to California on Friday and while I don't feel as eager to get there as I have on other occasions, it will be nice to go outside without instantly turning to soup.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

See You In September...

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How many ways can you say... NOT GOOD?

Two days and it's hurricane season...

THIS is the story in today's Times Picayune.

Is it possible to be any more screwed up? Can we trust the feds any less?

While we're running off to "rebuild Iraq" might it be possible to pay attention.. to spend money... to think of the people in a major city, at a major port, at the center of our own country?


Monday, May 29, 2006


As the day was winding its way to bed, I received two emails from friends with reprints of Memorial Day articles and it seemed important to send them out into the world on this day when we commemorate those who have died.

You can find both of them at George Washington's Cousin.


Yes... We have no bananas

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Summer Town Ghost Town

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Look What Human Beings Can Do...

It's Memorial Day, and while that is officially a day for remembering those who have been killed in battle, I find it important to remember all kinds of people, living and dead, whom we could not exist without. To that end, I just spent an hour watching a video of Oprah Winfrey's celebration of Legendary African American Women that she held last year at her home in Santa Barbara and that just ran on television last week.

I'm not black and I'm not a woman, but I sobbed through the whole show as I simply absorbed a small amount of the amazing energy that went into honoring those women. My life has certainly been transformed by the lives of those women that Oprah honored and simply sitting on the couch, sipping coffee, and watching the amazing event unfold served, as art should do at its best, to make me want to be a better, stronger, larger person.

THAT is what Memorial Day is really about... remembering each and every one of the people, male and female, young and old, who have made the world a place where you can live and explore and hope and dream.

Two movie quotes from Jack Nicholson come to mind:

The first from "The Witches of Eastwick" is one of my all time favorite quotes, "Look what human beings can do."

The other comes from "As Good As It Gets" when he says to Helen Hunt, "You make me want to be a better man."

I too am grateful for these women of such legendary stature... They indeed make me want to be a better man.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Eating... Drinking... and Being Merry

A week before Katrina (and two weeks after I arrived in New Orleans) I spent the weekend attending the Tales of the Cocktail event and, despite all the subsequent chaos, that even has brought me work, connections and even new friends that have lasted me that last nine months come hell and high water.

This weekend I will be exploring, for the first time, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. Lots of wine (mostly from Sonoma County ironically), good food, and even a musical play called "wine Lovers" that I am really looking forward to catching. In the meantime, I will also be trying to fit in oysters and Joe Krown at Le Bon Temps Roulette on Friday and the Bayou Boogaloo in mid-city on Saturday.

It's the first real weekend of activities since Jazz Fest and the first of the upcoming dog days of summer. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different

A man who is not at peace with himself necessarily projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him. Even when he tries to do good for others his efforts are hopeless, since he does not know how to do good to himself. In moments of wildest idealism he may take it into his head to make other people happy: and in so doing he will overwhelm them with his own unhappiness. He seeks to find himself somehow in the work of making others happy. Therefore he throws himself into the work. As a result he gets out of the work all he put into it: his own confusion, his own disintegration, his own unhappiness.

-Thomas Merton
No Man Is An Island (1955)

I found this quote in a little tiny book of meditations by Thomas Merton and it has pretty well discombobulated my reality for the moment (and hopefully for MORE than the moment). It would appear to be the diametrical opposite of the previous post... but then... maybe not.

In any case... if you want to read my reflections on the quote and what it seems to mean to me, I've put it on Butting Heads, so that those readers of this blog who are less than enthusiastic about reading 2,000 word tomes will not have to be subjected to my self-inflicted, self-involved ramblings (well... at leat no more than a few hundred words worth... Wordsworth?)

For you... I've left a song du jour... or you can just move along... nothing to see here.

Will Wonders Never Cease?

Perhaps C "Willy" Ray Nagin... in addition to talking to God like Pat Robertson should be checking out his Amazing Protein Shake.

The leg press has always struck me as the wimps way to pompous physical boasting...
that's from personal experience by the way... while I've got the upper body of Gilligan, I've always had great legs... when I was getting beat up in elementary and junior high school, I could always take anybody I could get between my legs... squeeze the shit out of them until they screamed for mercy! Now that I think of it... I could take anybody if I could get between THEIR legs... but that's probably more information than a goodly number of you were interested in. On the other hand... if there's anyone interested in finding out you can reach me at or hell... call me up... 504-273-6186... oops... better get back to my point.

The leg press has always struck me as the wimps way to pompous personal boasting because, when I was in high school in rural southern Arizona, being subjected to the harassment of sadistic shitheel PE instructors and the football linebacker lackies, I could, literally, out press anybody around on the leg press.

I'm betting that Pat Robertson had the same experience.

But what's really significant to me is that, as Clay Travis points out in the column, there's just NO FUCKING WAY that a fat ass (oh wait... that's the wrong end of his anatomy) like Robertson is leg pressing the equivalent of a miata with three babes in it (Clay says clowns, but I have my own image of who is occupying the miata).

So... here we are again... the Chaplain of the Contras, the former Presidential Candidate, The International Banking Sensation, the guy who publically calls for the assasination of world leaders, and the MAN WHO GOD TALKS TO has discovered a way to show his complete insanity AND his incredible personal corruption once again.

The thing is... I actually used to support this guy. I thought he was interesting, dedicated, and godly... That was a long... Long... LONG time ago (back when I was trying to prove MYself on the leg press actually... and giving lectures in college from Josh MacDowell manuals).

BUT... and here's Katrina again (I wouldn't want to disappoint my mysterious unnamed fans by letting a non-Katrina blog get by me).... I think that since C. Ray has already joined the Pat Robertson communicate with God camp and since he's about to take on the Hurricane Season from hell, he needs all the help he can get.

I suggest that as proof of his commitment C. Ray needs to make a trip up to Virginia Beach and consult with Pat about his new shake and his amazing physical prowess. I mean... hell... Pat even prayed a hurricane away from his TV studios in Virgina Beach... maybe if Ray and he got on WWF together they could turn all of RAW into a prayer meeting for the Gulf Coast!!!!

The possibilities are ENDLESS!

And so is the bullshit!

As for me... It's time for dinner, now let's go eat.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Waking Up In Wonkaville

The world hasn't ended... the sun is still shining (mostly)...
the NEXT GREAT HURRICANE is not on the doorstep (yet),
but waking up in New Orleans this morning has a very strange feeling to it that is going to take some time to figure out. It's not unlike the feeling I had waking up in Palm Beach County Florida the morning after Dubya was selected. The question just hangs there...

What's next?

I guess we need to ask Willy who he's talkin' to now.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The 20 ton elephant in the room

It's been a pretty good week. It started out a little bumpy, but with a lot of emotional heft, some help from friends, some good news in business and a generally fabulous week of spring weather the post-jazzfest/pre-hurricane blues have receded a bit and the basic loveliness of New Orleans has shone through.

Despite that... there is no way to get the nagging feeling of something sitting on the event horizon just waiting to march its way north. It 's a reality that sits beneath almost every conversation, every plan, all the mayoral debates and even minor personal considerations. Columnist Chris Rose, in his inimitable fashion, addresses it again in his wonderful column this morning.

For me... a twisted jocularity attaches itself to the timorous anticipation and a sort of graveyard humor manifests itself musically at odd times of the day and night. At other times the foreboding is darker and tears of sadness and/or dread rise to the surface at odd moments.

Everybody has these stories... as I am writing this right now, the announcer on WWOZ just made the comment, "half the city's on Paxil" and followed it with a Public Service Announcement about seeking psychiatric attention.

Everyone is experiencing the same thing; a kind of post-traumatic stress that you think has finally gone away suddenly shows up on your doorstep, or in the back seat of your car, or on the bar stool next to you; the tears flow all over again, and the sense of worry rises to the surface. You beat it back with cheerleading... magical thinking... prayer (if you're the praying type)... drink (if you're the drinking type) and, as always, music.

Nevertheless... it's there, it's not leaving, and it wants something to eat.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Welcome to Another Day...

It was 6:23 in the morning… Monday.

"Maybe you're mistaking the changes in the making… Tomorrow is the magic word… it's filled with hopes and dreams… Tomorrow is another day."

This came on the radio just as I was opening a small book of meditations by Maya Angelou… The reading I seized upon read,

"Love recognizes no barriers
It jumps hurdles
leaps fences
permeates walls

to arrive
at its destination
full of hope."

It was immediately after I had read this line, that the above song, aong by "King Pleasure," started on the WWOZ morning set.

There really couldn't be a greater synchronicity for me this morning. This was indeed the message I needed to hear and the trajectory I need to maintain.

There's only one way out of this big hole that all of us in New Orleans (and much of the rest of the Gulf Coast as well) are stuck in… and that's up.

If we don't move toward the light, the hole will become a grave.


To that end, in the electoral issues that affect us here, I just found a very interesting endorsement for Mitch Landrieu in the local African American newpaper, The Louisiana Weekly. Their article not only explains their support for Landrieu, but does a good job of describing what's wrong, in the present reality, with Ray Nagin.

The article can be found here and it's worth the reading, even if you don't live here.

Mitch Landrieu is the kind of politician that I have dreams about. He is actually someone who I truly believe in, who I truly think can, will and does make a difference. In an election that has great potential for dividing along racial lines, something that should not, and indeed MUST not happen in New Orleans, Mitch is, in my mind, the only person who can bring real unity; he's the only one who can really get things done. I think that's the reason that so many are endorsing him, from the alternative paper, Gambit Weekly, to the mainstream City Business weekly, to the Louisiana Weekly, a paper that I expect most folks thought would be endorsing Nagin.

The Times-Picayune published a terrific piece that looks at all angles of this interesting and complex politician. When you read his background and history, you get a pretty good understanding of why he is who he is.

I'm crossing my fingers and saying my prayers... NEXT Monday morning we'll know the answer and it will say a lot about where The Crescent City is headed as we enter THIS hurricane season.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rounding the May Pole Once More

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The more things change... the more they stay the same... or is that the more they stay the same the more things change?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Pour Yourself A Drink & Have A Seat By The Fire

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Rounding the May Pole

Up in Hattiesburg, just a couple hours away, Marsha receives her doctorate this afternoon and I am having an interesting reaction to that fact. A surprising reaction, as it was completely unexpected.

I find myself lonely and a little bit lost, as if this conclusion to part of her journey marks yet another ending of our journey. The endings keep coming over and over again… as if there's no way to be done, or to move on, or to go somewhere else. Like the labyrinth, just as it seems that I am moving closer in (or further out), the whole thing spins around and I am facing back where I started. I'm in a different place, but it's not really a different place at all.

Same as it ever was…

This time… right now… at least for the moment… it feels like a strange, and difficult, place. I feel simultaneously freed and bereft. It doesn't help that work in New Orleans is drying up far faster than the streets after rain. Getting people to move on ANYTHING in New Orleans right now makes the idea of blood from a stone seem easy as pie, and even projects that have been finished for months are stalled on the doorstep of completion as if those with the authority to finalize the project are frozen in fear, or confusion, or simply inertia. Consequently my available finances have shrunk and new business prospects that were really pretty good back in the early days of rebuilding after Katrina are looking like they're going to be stalled until sometime after hurricane season.

Momentum has slowed to a crawl… getting things moving again feels like a job of Sisyphean proportion, and I'm not enjoying the idea of getting flattened by the stone.

What to do in the midst of all this is about as confusing as it's ever been in my life, and that's saying A LOT!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

20 Days & Counting

Well... it's just four days since the end of JazzFest and less than three weeks to Hurricane Season and the town is already folding up the fenders and tucking in its tail. The music's stilll playing down on Frenchman's Street, but even that is a little slower and quieter since last weekend's crowds disappeared back into the friendly skies.

Getting things done in New Orleans, especially in the summertime, is never an easy proposition... For good or ill, the town tends to run like wading through molasses (or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor would be sorgum). There are events scheduled throughout the summer, events intended to put a bold face on our civic reality, but underneath it all, what's really going on is basically... nothing.

There's an election in a week, but even that won't tell us much of anything before Thanksgiving.

Anyway you cut it, this is going to be a long hot summer, a waiting game for just about everyone involved. Sometime next fall.... late October maybe... we'll begin to see movement again and that will be the true telling of where The Crescent City REALLY stands. That will be when we find out what kind of battle we're REALLY in for.

Make no mistake... New Orleans is coming back. The questions are simply how long's it gonna take and when's it gonna start?

For me, coming to the end of my ninth month of semi-homeless bi-coastal meandering, it's really a question (at least on the short end) of how much I can get done and where the hell I'm going to do it. I've never been a really STABLE person... The one time I really tried for the house with the white picket fence, I failed miserably... so far beyond belief that I can't even pull up a ripe and amusing anecdote about it anymore. Nonetheless... the last year has added a dimension to that reality that I could never have conceptualized when I decided to launch out; an encounter from which I am still learning. I guess that's really the way it goes for most people, it's just that from the outside looking in it's harder to see.

ANY way you look at it, it's been quite a ride, but the roller coaster's just getting ready to crank up again. So here I stand, knees shaking, ticket in hand, ready - more or less - to make the leap.

Hopefully maintenance fixed the loose bolts over on pole number 10.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Head Butt... Well not really

I just posted a piece on Butting Heads that I wrote nearly two months ago, but kept to myself until now.

Sitting here post-JazzFest, with no clear sense of where the city is going in the relatively near future, I decided to revisit the piece. It seems pretty much as relevant as before, so despite a few misgivings I have decided to lay it out there... for what it's worth. It's certainly in contrast to the positive takes I have expressed over the days of JazzFest, but it's also an appropriate set of observations because the fact is New Orleans is definitely a pieblad reality at present... perhaps it always has been.

There's more coming on all fronts, so stay tuned. The realities of recent days, weeks and months are coming home to roost and I'm feeling like my fingers won't type fast enought to get all of this stuff out of my head before it drives me crazy.

Best of FEST... The City of New Orleans

For 10 days – the 6 days of JazzFest and the four days in between – The Crescent City really was at the center of everything. Artists, both locals and those from out of town, gave all they had to express the love and connection they have to this place. Visitors from out of town were here for two reasons, the onne they always come for- good music – and the secondary one of solidarity and support. In the way in which post 9-11 we were all New Yorkers, for ten days in New Orleans, we were ALL New Orleanians.

And some of the greatest moments of Jazz Fest came out of that fact…

The second liners of Economy Hall – I had the strange opportunity to be in the Economy Hall Traditional Jazz Tent more often than I normally go. This is because I was helping care for Pat Jolly's mom, Honey. Three times a day for four days of the fest, I wound up in the Economy Hall tent to feed Honey who recently had a stroke but who, in lifelong New Orleanian fashion, was not about to let that deter her from her traditional seat at the foot of the Trad Jazz stage. For some strange reason we seem to have always picked the moment when the bands onstage kicked up the tempo and called for people to second line around the tent. The thing is, these folks clearly come to Jazz Fest for nothing OTHER than to second line in Economy Hall. Over and over, the same folks (folks I have encountered in similar situations – other Jazz Fests, French Quarter Fest, Nickle A Dance on Frenchman Street – in the past) grab their brightly decorated umbrellas, their handkerchiefs and scarves, and even their fancy shoes, and parade round and round the tent to the kicked up second line rhythms laid down by Dr. Michael White, George French, Bob French, Pete Fountain and more. These are dedicated, hard core, FUNtrepeneurs and frankly, they are MY kinda folks. All ages… all sizes… al sexes… all races. The only requirement is that you're willing to strut your stuff and shake your booty. As an example of the resiliency of New Orleans and New Orleans culture, the second liners of Economy Hall are postively unrivaled.

On a similar track, the concluding set in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, featured an all star line up of brass band players (as well as a couple of ringers like Maurice Brown) that positively rocked the house. The final number, a rip it up version of "Saints" elicited it's own form of chaotic, crazy celebrative second line and the explosion of energy that came out of it felt like it was enough to keep the levees up in the next storm all by itself (it's not… but it sure felt like it).

And that brings me to another point… New Orleans' quintessential theme song, "When the Saints Go Marching In" demonstrated a power and a life all it's own. From Bruce Springsteen's brilliant acoustic tribute featuring verses that most people had never even heard (verses which highlight the song's ultimately subversive gospel message) to any of a dozen traditional renderings, to the full tilt boogey blow out at 7:00 on Sunday, the song captured the audience every time and became a way of proclaiming solidarity, passion, and determination. Every rendering declared, as did the Fest itself, come hell and high water… WE'RE HERE TO STAY!

Best of Show... Day Six

This is an easy one… Paul Simon – Alan Toussaint – Irma Thomas on the Acura Stage singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" Simon, like most of the big artists from out of town that came to the big stage, brought to JazzFest the music that he connected to New Orleans in the Graceland album (now on the verge of it's 20th anniversary). Whereas that album utilized Clifton Chenier, Simon, this time commandeered the talents of Buckwheat Zydeco to provide the cajun flavor. His new material, from an album just released yesterday, was also topically relevant, particularly when it came to the song "How Can You" which even asks the question "how can you live on a river when the levees give way?"

But it wasn't until his encore with Thomas and Toussaint that the emotions, so close to the surface all weekend, erupted. Those three folks – two locals and a sympathetic New Yorker – demonstrated the longevity and depth of that classic Simon and Garfunkel song from a quarter century ago. The crowd, mashed together in mud and sweat, stood still and silent (mostly), absorbing the depth of passion and compassion that the song is meant to engage. It was one of the great moments in ten days of moments.

It was a tribute, an offering, and a gift.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Best of Show... Day Five

Robert Randolph makes crazier, wilder more creative rocking blues while sitting down than just about anyone and everyone standing up and crashing through gun slinger slide guitar. At JazzFest Saturday, he brought a massive crowd at the Southern Comfort Blues Stage to a frenzy of singing, dancing joyous chaos.

Like many of the performers during the 6 day fest, Randolph brought heart and soul for New Orleans to the performance and, in one song, took on the policies and clueless inefficiencies of the Bush administration response to the storm and its effect on the people of New Orleans. As with Springsteen the previous weekend, the crowd went with him and was grateful for the solidarity he expressed.

Then... they got back to dancing.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Best of Show... Day Four


Every year there's always one day where the whole dynamic changes; it's a day of wandering, a day of looking at arts and crafts and listening to one or two songs from performers on just about every stage. No one act stands out well beyond any other, but all of them sort of blend together to make one large wandering experience. This year, yesterday, the second Friday of the fest, was that day.

I heard dozens of artists, saw and sampled all kinds of foods, works of art and bits and pieces of the whole experience. It was kind of a stranGe peripatetic day. It was FEST DAY... another one of those things that doesn't really happen anywhere else.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We Still Need A Good Song

Riding back from Frenchman's Street last night I had this strange feeling of being in an almost deserted city... but it's the middle of jazzfest and there are things going on all over town! In years past, this would have meant thousands and thousands of people here for the week in between the fest weekends, but this year most people seem to have left town.

The event from Monday, at Tipitinas,(see a video clip here) was a benefit for musical instruments in schools. The urgency of this issue is due to the fact that as kids return, most of the instruments gathered up and given in years past were lost to the storm and the program has to start over. You can help, if you're so inclined, by going to Tipitina's Foundation and making a donation.

Yesterday, Ray Nagin, our soon to be ex-mayor, introduced his hurricane evacuation plan, which pretty much guarantees that one week a month (under good circumstances) the city will be emptied of all its population, playing havoc on every type of business and personal dynamic.

It's festival time all right... and the town is feeling pretty ebullient... here's to hoping that we will not soon be simply effluvia.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Blues Routes

By the way... new Blues Routes shows are up and you can find them on the site and at iTunes. I'm trying to do a show every day (it is, after all, supposed to be "Your Daily Trip To The Delta") and they are covering everything from things that happen at and around JazzFest, as well as my standard stories about the history and journeys of classic blues music and musicians. The shows up right now are on the first few days of JazzFest. Later in the week, we'll have shows about the songs "High Water Everywhere" and "How Can A Poor Man Stand These Times And Live" as well as ongoing coverage of things that happen around and about JazzFest all week.

Give it a listen... and pass it on.

The House That Fess Built

JazzFest, and the week between, isn't all (or even mostly) about the big stars from out of town; it's mostly about local musicians of all types who gather back home (this year even more than ever) to make great music in some of the best spots to make music. Tipitina's is one of those spots and Monday night was one of those times. Soul Project, Little Freddy King, Tab Benoit and his star studded Voice of the Wetlands band, Shannon McNally, Galactic, Donald Harrison Jr., and Walter Wolfman Washington all played last night in a benefit for the Tipitina's Foundation. The concert was called "Instruments A Comin'" and it serves as a benefit to supply musical instruments to New Orleans school kids.

Like most things in New Orleans, it was about fun as much as it was about raising money, a fact that pretty much every performer made it a point to mention. An astonishing evening of creative, unusual blendings of music and musical styles topped of by an insane cab ride with two friends and a group of highly inebriated folks from somewhere in Europe (I not only couldn't understand their English, I couldn't understand their apparently "NATIVE" language either).

In a town that has been repeatedly referred to as adult Disneyland, last night felt a little bit like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.



Those are the lyrics and title of a brand new song written by Bruce Springsteen and debuted at JazzFest on Sunday. It's just one of several ways Bruce demnstrated his clear sence of reality and his ability to connect. A lot of people are going to, as they always do about someone, claim that Springsteen's appearance was superfluous and stupid, but those people weren't there. The people who were there got it when he sang Poor Man and when he turned "We Shall Overcome" into a truly communal church moment, or when he rededicated his "City In Ruins" to New Orleans... the whole band calling and the audience responding to the repeated command to "Rise Up!" When he closed with a slow accoustic version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" there wasn't a dry eye on the field.

But the new song... that was a Springsteen original and a homecoming present just for us. You can see a video of the performance here.

The song is an adaptation of an old song by Blind Alfred Reed that was written during The Great Depression. Springsteen kept the original first verse, but wrote three more about New Orleans after the storm. Here are the lyrics... pay particular attention to the second verse.

Well, the doctor comes 'round here with his face all bright
And he says "in a little while you'll be alright"
All he gives is a humbug pill, a dose of dope and a great big bill
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

He says "me and my old school pals had some mighty high times down here
And what happened to you poor folks, well it just ain't fair"
He took a look around gave a little pep talk,
said "I'm with you" then he took a little walk
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

There's bodies floatin' on Canal and the levees gone to Hell
Martha, get me my sixteen gauge and some dry shells
Them who's got got out of town
And them who ain't got left to drown
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

I got family scattered from Texas all the way to Baltimore
And I ain't got no home in this world no more
Gonna be a judgment that's a fact, a righteous train rollin' down this track
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Monday, May 01, 2006


OF JAZZFEST... To abuse an old quote from Bruce Springsteen's friend and manager, Jon Landau, "I have seen the future of folk music and it's name is Bruce Springsteen."

Bruce, in a nearly two hour JazzFest Set (with a thirty minute encore that went well past the 7:00 pm closing time... something I've never seen at JazzFest before), truly demonstrated why he is... still... The Boss. The music was beautiful - crafted with brass band, banjos, accordions and guitars - as if the set had been customized for New Orleans, Bruce repurposed classic folk work songs, and liberationist hymns, like We Shall Overcome, and even an unbelievable rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Bruce and the band gave their heart to the City and the City received it with gratitude and amazement. On a great great day at the fest, filled with fabulous performances, Springsteen capped the first weekend with heart, soul and even rock and roll.

It was perfect.