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I seem to have made some little progress in clearing my slate of projects over the past few days and am starting to breathe a little easier.  Last week, it seemed as if I was overwhelmed with a mountain of pre-trip planning that was preventing me from taking care of other, more basic, interests.

I think I can now relax as the "hard stuff" seems to be behind me.  All the tickets for immeditate travel have been purchased, the hotel reservations made, and the only remaining thing I need to do is pack (typically done during an "all-nighter" right before departure).  I've read a total of four guidebooks (plus countless online information sites) in preparing for two days in Portland and four in Seattle.  Possible overkill, perhaps, but I have a very good idea of what I'd like to see and do during my free time there.

I also (finally) got my car repaired this past weekend.  I'd previously replaced brake pads on the front right side earlier this year but the fine mechanics at Brake Masters told me Saturday that it was a hardware problem rather than a wear issue — the calipers were actually getting stuck closed on the right side of the brake pad.  They replaced the entire assembly and that (hopefully) will do the trick; I'm supposed to go in for a check-up after 5,000 miles to make certain (the way I drive nowadays, it could take me a couple of years for me to drive that much and this car will long since have been traded in for my SUV by that time).

I felt great once I got my car back that morning; I hadn't been driving much for the past several months (living withing walking distance of the grocery shop, post office, and work has it's advantages) and suddenly it seemed like I had extra freedom.  I hadn't realized how much I'd enjoyed driving around with the breeze in my face and seeing the nice scenery along the route between the brake shop and my home.  If I would have had my camera in the car, I probably would have found some rural road somewhere to drive on looking for photo opportunities (I did take a "victory lap" through the grounds of the nearby Albuquerque Academy, however — I'd never been in there).  I haven't gone anywhere since, though (and I still walked to the post office this morning).

Now that the Northwest trip planning is out-of-the-way and I know I can drive somewhere if I have/want to, I seem much more relaxed.  I can now resume reading my manuals on volunteer work & teaching English as well as read up on Nepal in general.  (In order to keep track of the political situation in-country and other local news, I've just added a headline feeder to my blog...)

Last week at this time, I'm sure I felt very anxious and overwhelmed.  Today, I'm very relaxed and calm.  I may even find some time to work on some audio & video projects (like burning some of the CD's and DVD's I've downloaded to make room for more!).

Two weeks from today, the traveling begins in earnest.  I'm ready and I can't wait!



In my last post, I mentioned shirts I designed for the upcoming Los Trios Marillos West Coast shows.  (Since the band WILL NOT be bringing any merchandise over from England, t-shirts included, these will probably be the only acoustic tour shirts you may see...)

The first two are the front and back, respectively, of a general tour shirt (click on the image for a larger view):

This one looks really great, by the way, as a hooded sweatshirt!

The second pair is the "expedition" design for Mike ("Bozeman Barry") and myself ("Albuquerque Anorak").  Obviously, Mike's will have his "Barry" character on the front (this is a small, over-the-pocket, design) holding the Montana state flag; the first image is mine holding the city of Albuquerque flag (slightly more interesting than the New Mexico state flag).  They WON'T have our names under the image as this one does (when I uploaded it to the server, the transparent background became a sickly green so I chopped it off the final design).

On this second shirt, I really struggled with the text on the back.  I had all sorts of cornball things like "The Amazing Adventures Of Albuquerque Anorak & Bozeman Barry On Tour With...", etc.  From the start, I'd wanted a Lewis & Clark theme since the Pacific Northwest is currently honoring the bicentennial of the Corps Of Discovery.  (I tried to make a design featuring the Barry characters as Lewis and Clark, complete with coonskin cap with one standing in a canoe.  It looked terrible...)  Then I hit upon the map idea and got flags for the Barrys to hold (marking Mike and my hometowns).  In the end, "The Great West Coast Expedition" was the best text I could come up with (maintaining a tenuous link with Lewis & Clark).

Oh, well.  This is just for a bit of a laugh anyway; something that hopefully the band will find amusing when two "crazy American blokes" show up wearing them!   And I think they look better than some of the shirts certain groups of fans wear at the annual conventions...It will be interesting to gauge reactions at the rapidly approaching gigs!


Where does the time go?  It seems like I've been very busy lately — too busy, indeed, to even write a blog entry — and yet it seems as if I haven't accomplished much of anything.

And the time keeps on rushing by...

Before I know it, it will be time to leave for the West Coast and the highly anticipated Marillion ("Los Trios Marillos") semi-acoustic tour.  I have spent quite a bit of time recently preparing for this journey, not the least of which has been creating two different t-shirt designs (one is a general tour shirt, the other is a "crew" shirt for Mike and myself featuring our nicknames — "Albuquerque Anorak" and "Bozeman Barry").  I've also been completing my research of down-time activities; I really wish I could spend a lot more than one day in Portland as it seems like I'll be running all over town taking photos (of course, if the Marillos want to do something special all other plans will go out the window).

Ten days after I return to Albuquerque, I will be boarding another plane — this time to Kansas City for Bryan and Melissa's wedding.  Before last week, I really didn't think I would be able to attend; I was even fairly reluctant to try because of a few personal reasons.  But I finally decided that I would be forever regretful if I didn't make the effort so I quickly purchased my Southwest Airlines tickets before I could talk myeself out of the trip once again (luckily, SWA was having an airfare sale so I got a really good deal).  It will be a quick trip, however:  I land in K.C. early the morning of September 29, and depart the afternoon of October 1st.  Apparently, I'm the "official videographer" for the wedding which seems to be an unpaid position, apart from Bryan buying a couple of blank mini DV tapes.

I've also been keeping "busy" trying to cram as much research on volunteerism, teaching English abroad, and Nepal as I can into the relatively little free time I actually have these days.  I will need to make a decision very soon as to when I would like to leave for Kathmandu.  The best time weatherwise seems to be from October or November through about March so that doesn't give me a whole lot of time.  My family seems to think that Christmas would be a very interesting time of year to be in emersed within such a different culture and religion.  I do have to agree that leaving sometime in mid- or late December would be ideal (and perhaps I wouldn't return home to a house full of spiderwebs like I did the last time I was in Asia).

But it seems like I have a mountain of books to go through in such a short amount of time (I really do like to know all I can about a region before I get on the plane).  It's been more than a little overwhelming since I've also been reading those books about Portland and Seattle.

My "fun" reading has been almost non-existant recently (not to imply that I don't enjoy the research I've been doing, but it would be nice to sit down to some light fiction sometime and just escape into it).  In fact, the "Currently Reading" section of this blog doesn't accurately represent the stack of books on my coffee table right now.  I haven't picked up Innocents Abroad in weeks and the first volume of the Patrick O'Brian novels was recently returned to it's slipcase (both great books, but also fairly "heavy" reading that demands more concentration than I can devote right now).

Perhaps this weekend I'll try to relax with a nice mystery from my library.  I think there's still a Tony Hillerman that I haven't read yet as well as the most recent Michael McGarrity — received from my sister last Christmas — not to mention that I'm several books from getting caught up with Clive Cussler (plus, he has two more coming out in the next few months) and I know I've gotten far behind on the James Patterson novels.  All of these authors are ones I've enjoyed reading as forms of escapism — the books also tend to go very fast as you constantly want to find out what happens next.


Now I can understand a bit of where the time goes — mostly it's given over to reading in one form or another (plus watching the few television shows that I enjoy).  And somewhere in the midst of all of this pre-trip research (plus the online portion which is considerable), I need to find time to read (and sometimes even reply to) e-mails, get caught up on the one or two message boards/forums that I still try to keep track of AND scroll the top pages of various BitTorrent sites for any new downloads that I "must have".

It isn't any wonder why I haven't blogged recently; I haven't even had time to devote to my musical endeavors (which I enjoy more than writing).  My hard drives seem hopelessly full of downloaded audio and video; I need to burn off some of this material to make room for more!  (In fact, the ONLY media I've burned recently have been for a couple of friends and to pass on some DVD vines; as usual, they're probably listening or watching to this material long before I do.)

I hope to complete one or two final editing projects between returning from Bryan's wedding and leaving for Nepal.  THEN, I will feel like I've accomplished something!

In the meantime, don't expect blog entries to appear here very often.  And be forewarned that the few that I do write will probably tend to be fairly lengthy (as if that's anything new!).

Unfortunately, that will mean than I won't write much about the quirky things about my town — Albuquerque — that I often like to blog about after watching the evening news or reading the Sunday newspaper.  But it should get REALLY interesting once I go to Nepal (well, if I can find an Internet cafe to write from anywhere near where I'll be — I'm not really expecting electricity for that matter!).

And, now to sleep...



I often experience a period of anti-climax or letdown once one trip ends and the next begins.  Although we stayed within a couple of hours of my home during my family's recent visit to New Mexico, I'm finding that I'm experiencing some anxiety now that I'm back at home.

At least I don't have long to wait for my next trip — a slightly more "major" affair:  I'll be travelling to the Northwest United States during the week of September 13-19.  This journey has two primary goals — meeting with the NGO whom I'll be volunteering for in Nepal and joining Marillion for what could be their final American shows for quite some time.

This is turning into quite an involved trip.

My free time in Portland will actually be fairly limited with Tuesday afternoon meeting with my future employers and that evening attending Marillion's in-store signing and acoustic session.  My hotel is close to both (on the west side of the city within walking distance of the Japanese Garden and Oregon Zoo, among other attractions) and public transportation is such that I can easily get around without a car (I plan to take the light rail all the way from the airport).

I'll have most of the day Wednesday available to sightsee and will probably remain near downtown checking out Pioneer Square and browsing at the world-famous Powell's Books.  Time permitting, I may check out Chinatown and the Chinese Garden (one of the few in the United States) and some of the nautical activity alongside the Wilamette River (the maritime museum won't be open during my brief visit).  Marillion's concert that evening is at the Aladdin Theater in the southeast section of Portland so I need to plan my bus journey there with plenty of time to spare (I still need to research places to eat/see nearby the venue).

Early Thursday, I'll be catching the Amtrak Cascades train to Seattle (only $25 one way).  My friend Mike (who I first met at the Marillion concert in Boulder last September) will be flying in from Bozeman, Montana, a couple of hours after my arrival so I'll probably take the bus from the Amtrak station to the airport to meet him (Seattle should have their own light rail system from Sea-Tac to downtown up-and-running in another couple of years or so).  We have a rental car reserved (a Dodge Neon — which I currently drive at home — "or similar") which we'll pick up and drive back up to our hotel (which is within walking distance to many sites downtown and around the Seattle Center grounds).  Actually, we probably could have gotten by without a rental car (and Seattle is notorious for bad traffic), but I wanted a place to stow my camcorder in case we can't take it inside the venue for Marillion's show there (Chop Suey doesn't seem to have a "friendly" camera policy so they might frisk us down more than other venues; I plan to ask the band if I can get a press pass).

By the time we get checked-in to our hotel on Thursday, it should be time to leave for Marillion's acoustic session at Tower Records.

The actual concert is Friday night and we don't return to our respective homes until Sunday evening, so we'll have plenty of time to check out the tourist attractions in Seattle — a city neither of us have ever spent any time in.  Just perusing the two travel guides I have (a DK Eyewitness Guides Top Ten volume and a more comprehensive Lonely Planet book) has given me numerous ideas of things I'd like to see and do.  High on that list is a visit to the Museum Of Flight (where I should finally be able to take some decent photos of a Concorde) and a ferry ride across to Bainbridge Island.  Of course, we'll check out the many things to see around the downtown area including Pioneer Square and a ride to the observation deck of the Space Needle.  Even the Monorail is back in operation following a long shutdown by a fire in May 2004.  The Seahawks are even playing their home opener (against Atlanta) that Sunday but we probably won't go to the game (it starts at 1pm but it would seriously cut into additional sightseeing time before we'd have to leave for the airport).

I'm sure I'll draw up a brief daily plan of things to see and do each day sometime soon.

We both fly out of Sea-Tac Sunday evening; I depart for Phoenix at 6:45 (where I'll have to camp out until my 50-minute flight to Albuquerque leaves at 6:15 the following morning) and Mike's plane leaves an hour or so later.  All of these advance bookings (and the planning to coordinate it all) took relatively little time at all.  I did compare A LOT of flight routings and prices (my return flight wasn't really a mistake — I decided it was far less to do it that way than to fly out of Seattle early Monday morning on a direct flight to Albuquerque; the airfare was $50 or so cheaper and that doesn't count the extra night in a hotel — I don't mind sleeping at the Phoenix airport for a few hours as I've done so there many times in the past and am familiar with the "good" places to rest without being disturbed).

I'm looking forward to the trip but fear I've finished the online planning for it too quickly (this is an area that I thrive in).  I've just begun reading the Insight Guide To Portland (the new edition was just published a couple of months ago so it's still relatively current); when I finish that, I'll probably go back to my research on Nepal, tips for volunteers, and guides to teaching English as a second language (not to mention the first volume in the complete Patrick O'Brian series of naval novels).

For being in a "between-trip" anti-climatic limbo, I certainly seem busy!


I've been back home since mid-day last Thursday but have been too lazy to blog about my family's visit.

Briefly, everyone (my dad, stepmom, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew) arrived last Monday.  Following some gift giving (for my dad's 70th birthday and sister's 38th — both of which occurred in May but which I was unable to attend) at my apartment, we departed for the "traditional" shopping expedition.  I steered them first to the Knob Hill area (east of the University Of New Mexico) but we were all disappointed that the self-proclaimed "hip" section of 'Burque failed to live up to expectations.

Thus, we next ventured to Old Town — the old square around which the villa was first established in 1706 and the center of quaint, tourist-oriented, shops.  Luckily, there were no anti-war protests during our visit (something which has become quite common since the National Atomic Energy Museum moved there from the air force base following 9/11 — the huge Redstone rocket outside the entrance has become a rallying point for those who oppose our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan).

After an hour of browsing in shops and taking photos of the old San Felipe de Neri church and other interesting sites, we congregated for a nice late lunch/early dinner at one of the few restaurants on the plaza I hadn't yet ate at — High Noon Restaurant & Saloon.  The service was rather poor and slow but the food was tasty and plentiful.

We then drove up to Rio Rancho where we had rented a condo for two nights (the wonderful Green's Condiminiums — a return visit as we stayed there when the family visited for Balloon Fiesta about five or six years ago).

Tuesday morning, the crew separated — Keith and Spencer to play a round of golf at the condo's 18-holer and the rest of us to while away some time in the Sandia Casino.  This place is growing by leaps and bounds — just a few years ago it was housed in a large hanger-type structure west of I-25 but has since relocated to the other side of that highway in a sprawling adobe structure.  My first visit to the new location was just 11 months ago when some friends visited and we attended a couple of concerts (ZZ Top and Yes with Dream Theater) in the beautiful amphitheatre which sits in front of the casino complex.  The building housing the casino at that time was just a ground floor structure; they have since built (it's almost finished judging by some scaffolding still along one end) a five-story hotel on top of that building!  There's also a world-class golf course nearing completion on the grounds.

My sister and I paired up and hit several slot machines.  I only had two one-dollar bills and decided I wouldn't change any money beyond those two.  We stayed mainly on the nickel and quarter machines (until we found the cool Star Wars-themed slots that were a penny a play.  At one point, I was up $6.00 but lost it in the end (I wanted to because I would have been embarrassed to cash in a $6.00 ticket).  My step-mom won more than $80.

Our next stop was the Sandia Peak Tramway (the world's longest single-span tram) where we had a snack while waiting for Keith and Spencer and enjoyed the views over the Rio Grande Valley.  Everyone except for Marilyn rode to the summit (10,378 feet) and we enjoyed the much cooler weather and some of the forest trails on the west side of the ridge.  On the way back down, we were (finally) able to see the wreckage from the TWA airliner that crashed in the mountains back in 1955 (you have to stand along the back wall of the gondola in order to see straight down into the second canyon from the top).

Some more time was spent visiting (and watching Spencer chase rabbits in the yard) before heading out to dinner.  I'd wanted to choose a place in the revitalized downtown and my first choice was Tucanos Brazilian Grill but we ended up choosing Ragin' Shrimp (a Cajun restaurant).  Although the guide book listed it as being downtown, the place is actually in Knob Hill (a block north of Central).  We dined on the patio and the food was very good (although I only had a salad — the increased monsoonal humidity had been playing havoc with my stomach for several days by that point).  It's a funky little place and well worth a second visit.

On the way back to the condo, I rode with Dad and Lyn and steered them through downtown on Central (old Route 66) which was lit up nicely for the evening; they were able to catch climpses of the new Transportation Center (modeled after the historic Alvarado Hotel and Santa Fe RR Station which burned in the early 1970s) and the architecturally-significant Kimo Theatre.

Another highlight of that day was the fact that Marilyn saw her very first roadrunner.  During family trips to New Mexico when we were both very young, our parents or myself would often see a roadrunner outside of the car.  But by the time my sister would look out the window, it would have already disappeared.  It became a subject of family lore and was often joked about at gatherings.  Indeed, I hadn't even seen one in years.  Yet, Marilyn spotted one from the car in Rio Rancho (just north of Cottonwood Mall) and was able to point it out in time for all of us to also see it.  I think it's a sign that Rio Rancho has been growing too fast and the wildlife is confused (in addition to the rabbits we saw all over the condo grounds, Keith had also seen a coyote that morning on his way to the golf course).

We checked out of the condo early Wednesday and began the drive north to our next destination — Taos.  I had wanted to take the high road (scenic route through many old Spanish village) between Santa Fe and Taos but was voted down because of time constraints (ironically, the journey on the low road took longer than the scenic route because of several stops we made, but ultimately I think it was the better choice as we ALL had a good time at those stops).

Our first unscheduled stop was the huge Jackalope store on Cerillos Road in Santa Fe; they sell loads and loads of (mostly outdoor-style) pottery and decorative art, much of it Southwestern but there are also worldwide imports.  (They also have a new store in Bernalillo as well as locations in L.A., and Parker, Colorado; well worth a visit...)  Spencer enjoyed watching the prairie dogs (an enclosed habitat for them is on the store grounds) while we all enjoyed browsing all sorts of things and watching a glass-blowing demonstration (I shot some nice film footage of this).  When I move to my next place (and I'm seriously thinking of buying a condo), I plan to decorate it with stuff from Jackalope.

North of Santa Fe, we made stops at two wineries — Santa Fe Vineyards just north of the turnoff to Nambe and the high road (which I wasn't too impressed with, dusty with cobwebs in the tasting room) and the very nice Black Mesa Winery just south of Velarde.  I tasted several and purchased a 2004 Mesa Merlot (excellent) along with a wine glass imprinted with the winery's logo.

Lunch was just a few miles further down the road at one of my favorite places to stop in rural New Mexico — the historic Embudo Station (a stop on the old El Camino Real wagon trail and the "Chile Line" narrow gauge railroad as well as being New Mexico's first brewpub).  I make a bathroom stop here everytime I'm driving along this route; it sits on the west side of the Rio Grande (so you have to cross a bridge) under a nice stand of cottonwood trees.  There was some concern this past spring that Embudo Station would be flooded during the abnormally high runoff from the snowmelt farther up in the Sango de Cristos.  The hostess told me the river came all the way to the steps on the patio.  Sadly, they no longer brew beer on the premises (under new ownership) and their supplier hadn't delivered any of the other New Mexico beers they sell; we settled on a pilsner brewed in Colorado that was very good.  I had a barbecue brisket that was extremely tasty.

We arrived in Taos around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and spent some time browsing the shops on the plaza and the nicer shops in a newer gallery between the north end of the square and the Governor Bent museum.  I think Dad was much more impressed with Taos during this visit as he has come to realize that there is much more to the tiny town than the actual plaza there.  I took a photo of Dad and Lyn in front of the sign for Moby Dickens Bookshop (I still think they are missing an opportunity by not selling t-shirts with that logo) and then we headed up the mountain to our condo.

This particular condo (Twining) was located at the very end of the road in Taos Ski Valley high above the town of Taos (a nice 15-mile drive; I want to return so I can browse the cool shops in Arroyo Seco, where the movie Easy Rider was filmed in part).  The Rio Hondo burbled along the two-lane highway into the mountains with birch, aspen, and evergreens lining either side of the road.  The condo itself was on three levels (the entrance at ground level opening onto a step staircase leading up to two large bedrooms and a bathroom on level two; a kitchen, another bathroom, a living area with fireplace and a small deck on the next level; and finally a loft above the kitchen with more bedding.  All in a rustic pine.  I immediately fell in love with it (although the immediate view was of an unfinished parking lot you could see across to the ski lodge and chairlifts and beautiful mountains beyond).

We got one of our heavy afternoon thunderstorms which are typical of this time of the year.  Keith and I headed back down the mountain in order to get gas for his SUV; the tank was on fumes and the ONLY gas station was some 12 miles or so away.  We made it (just barely) and scouted out some dinner ideas on the way back to the condo.  This was to by Lyn's birthday dinner and I made a point of paying for it.  We chose the "famous" Tim's Salty Dog Cantina (we had searched for a place called The Bavarian up the forest roads behind the community but succeeded in finding a bunch of washed-out roads and giving his SUV a four-wheel-drive workout) which was very good (had some wonderful beer and the best steak I've had in years); I also managed to give the waiter more than I'd intended to tip him so he got a $40 tip for the $110 dinner.  Keith bought us each t-shirts —they came with an address so we can send photos wearing the shirts in famous locations for them to post around the restaurant.

I wish we could have spent the entire family visit at Taos Ski Valley as the condo was really nice and the scenery was outstanding.  It is the mountains and forests of New Mexico that I love most and which I so rarely get to show my out-of-town guests (as nice as the high-road route between Santa Fe and Taos may be, it's not near as forested as the road to Taos Ski Valley; I've heard the Enchanted Circle route from Taos around to Angel Fire, Red River, etc. is even more scenic but I've never driven that).

All in all, it was a very nice visit — just too short.  We left the condo early Thursday morning — Keith, Marilyn, and Spencer headed east on US 64 (which is very scenic going past Eagle Nest Lake and through the Cimarron State Park) on their way to their next stop in Colorado Springs) and me riding back to Albuquerque with Dad and Lyn.

We made a short stop at the San Francisco de Asis Church in Los Ranchos de Taos.  This is one of the most photographed and painted churches in the entire U.S. (the subject of famous works by artists as diverse as Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams) as well as being the oldest church in the U.S. dedicated to St. Francis Of Asisi.  I expected to take just a few photos (the most "famous" view of the church is of it's rear) but we got a lot more than we bargained for.  There were numerous photo opportunities along the front — not only of the church itself but of the surrounding structures.  I think Lyn and I competed for the most artistic angles.  I took more photos in the 15 or 20 minutes we were there than on the entire family visit.

Arriving back in Albuquerque around lunchtime, I introduced Dad and Lyn to the pleasures of Dion's sandwiches (it had been TOO LONG since my last 10-inch roast beef & provolone with extra Greek dressing which had once been a once-per-week treat).  Before they departed, we took the time at my apartment to transfer the photos from their memory card to a CD-R (and I copied mine as well).

Out of all the previous visits my family have made to New Mexico, this one was by far the nicest.  True, I still wasn't able to get them to certain places I'd like them to see (i.e., the Petroglyph National Monument, the grounds of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, downtown for a meal at a sidewalk cafe, etc.), but together we discovered some new things and that's a lot more fun.

Perhaps the best part of the entire visit was that I got some great advice from everyone about purchasing a home and plan to look into a condo purchase (which would be less expensive than my monthly rent payments, plus I'd have something to show for my money).  IF I choose to stay in Albuquerque, I'm sure I can find a nice place and my first choices would be in the revitalized downtown area (lots of cool-looking places in the shaded region) or Corrales.  I was VERY surprised to find out how affordable the condos in Rio Rancho are; even some of those in the mountainous areas of Taos Ski Valley and Angel Fire would work out to be less in payments than my monthly rent.  So, the new few weeks will see me doing a lot of condo price research in various areas where I'd like to live.  And the fact that everyone (including my nephew) said they would come down to help me move is just icing on the cake.

Yes, a very beneficial visit on so many different levels.


A week ago Saturday one of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department helicopters was shot down within just a couple of miles of my home during a pursuit.

Late last night, police arrested the prime suspect in the shooting and it turns out he was a marksman instructor in the U.S. Marine Corps and had been trained to take down a man at 700 yards; investigators have determined that the high-powered rifle that took down their copter was fired from 550 yards away.

Apparently, only two other police helicopters have ever been shot down within the United States — both in the Los Angeles area during gang activity in the 1980s.  The initial reports on this one sounded pretty scary when the local news began reporting that BCSD was under "enemy fire."  Nobody was killed in this crash and the pilot and crewmember were both awarded special medals by the city of Albuquerque (the pilot had flown helicopters with the National Guard for many years).  The Sherrif's Department has another, louder, helicopter but won't use it because of noise concerns.



Next month's West Coast mini-tour by Marillion's acoustic trio is shaping up rather nicely.

Prior to leaving England, the two Steves and Pete will perform a warm-up for fans at The Zodiac in Oxford, with Matt Mitchell opening.  Tickets are now on sale directly through Racket Records.

The U.S. shows begin in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego, on September 6.  I listed the entire schedule in a previous post so I won't repeat that here. &nbso;Jason Hart will be the opening act at these gigs (no, not the Sacramento Kings new point guard).

The band has also scheduled in-store acoustic sets and signing sessions in five of the stops along the way (two of the six concerts are in the L.A. area so one in-store will serve two gigs).  These are wonderful opportunities for even more up-close-and-personal interaction with one of the most fan-oriented and approachable group of guys in the music business.

The record store appearances are as follow:

Sep.  6:  La Jolla, CA — Tower Records, 18657 Villa La Jolla Drive (1:00pm)
Sep.  8:  West Hollywood, CA — Tower Records, 8801 Sunset Boulevard (6:00pm)
Sep. 11:  San Francisco, CA — Tower Records, Columbus & Ray (1:00pm)
Sep. 13:  Portland, OR — Music Millennium, 801 N.W. 23rd Street (6:00pm)
Sep. 15:  Seattle, WA — Tower Records, 701 5th Avenue North (6:00)

In addition, it is hoped to arrange a few radio station appearances as well.

Stay tuned...


I've been a member of the Columbia House Music Club off and on for about twenty-three years now, first receiving selections on vinyl records (remember those?), then CD's, and more recently on DVD.

Although I've kept my membership active, it's rare for me to actually order something from them because of the high base prices and inflated shipping costs.  Indeed, usually I just decline the selection of the month when I receive those e-mails.  Just a few days ago, I had a charge on my debit card from them and found out I must have missed one of the selection e-mails (I KNOW I didn't order Hitch; when the DVD arrives, I plan to return it and have them credit my card) and was looking around on their site to find out how one can cancel their membership.

Tonight, I received an e-mail from Columbia House saying they are closing their doors effective August 22nd.  Existing memberships will (it seems) be absorbed by BMG Music Club.

I guess it's just a sign of the times as CD sales continue to decline — losing the battle with music downloads.  Critics are actually predicting the end of music stores as we know them with all new releases available via download only.

Although I do enjoy the convenience of downloading new albums as well as live and rare recordings (as long as they are in lossless formats such as FLAC —no MP3's for me!), I still prefer the choice of having a physical product.  I enjoy being able to read an album's liner notes (particularly certain box sets which come with well-researched books) while I listen to the music for the first time.  Even the music I download has to be put into a physical form (a burned CD-R) for me to truly feel like I "own" it; during the time between the download completing and my burning it to disc, it feels like it's not yet in my collection.  Unfortunately, the past few months have seen that limbo period increase more and more where I now have several hundred full albums on my computer, not to mention probably 50 or so ROIO's (both audio and video).  Time to buy some more blanks...

It's probably people like me who have been nailing the coffin shut on Columbia House, etc.  I wonder how long BMG will be able to stay afloat (they charge almost $3.00 for shipping PER DISC, so if you order a 3-CD set it will set you back the high list price plus $9.00 for them to mail it to you!).

I just hope that local music stores never die (although I haven't set foot in even a chain store in several years — not since I was in Hong Kong) and that doesn't resort to download-only distribution for it's music and movies (like some other online retailers have done recently).

It's interesting that among today's music fans, there arguments are rarely about the types of music different people listen to but rather about the METHOD they listen to it (whether on CD's on a stereo or by iPod, lossy versus lossless, etc., etc.).  It's very confusing at times, but probably very similar to the battles fought when CBS introduced the 33 1/3 RPM LP to replace 78 RPM discs and then RCA fought back by bringing out their own format — the 45 RPM single (it would be a few years before it was discovered that the album and the single could co-exist and complement each other).

Yes, it's very interesting to watch developments in the music industry right now and compare it with past history.  When will the record companies learn that they need to listen to the consumer?  Lower prices to increase sales, it seems pretty simple to me...



After a very long absence from these shores (prior to September 2004, they hadn't toured America since 1997), it seems like everytime I turn around lately Marillion is back on this side of the Atlantic.

The 25-year-old British progressive rock band has been without a record label for a number of years now, preferring to do the "work" of releasing and promoting albums themselves — aided by their very supportive fans.  The last two studio albums have essentially been paid for by those fans, who purchased sufficient numbers PRIOR to the band recording even a single note.  These preorders gave Marillion the opportunity to take the time in the studio to produce arguably their finest material to date.  The sales of last year's release, the double-album Marbles, also allowed the band to self-promote the album on such a scale that they were able to propel two singles into the upper reaches of the British charts — a feat virtually impossible for an independent band without the heavy machinery of a major label's marketing team.

Thus, they were able to make a brief tour of North America last September and October and even see some profit from those shows (which ranged in size from the 450-capacity Fox Theatre in Boulder to around 1,500 in some of the East Coast venues).  It's very expensive for British groups to tour the U.S. without record company support when you factor in the transport costs, visa fees, self-promotion, etc.  The previous North American tour — in 1997 — only came about when some enterprising fans began a tour fund, eventually raising enough money to pay for the band to come over and tour.

The crowds at last year's shows convinced Marillion that they could no longer ignore the American (and Mexican and Canadian) fans and swore to play shows here anyway they could.  We were rewarded by a brief acoustic mini-tour in June by three-fifths of the band (billing themselves "Los Trios Marillos").  These gigs were very well-received, although they did concentrate on the Northeast Corridor (the farthest west they got was a show in Chicago).

Following that brief return to America, the full band played some large festival dates in Europe and began scheduling shows for their "Not Quite Christmas" tour in November and early December.  I was halfway thinking about trying to make the final show of that tour, in London, two days following my 40th birthday.

Then, last week, an e-mail arrived from Lucy Jordache — the band's communication's director (she first met the band in 1997 when she worked for EMI Records and was in charge of coordinating the remastering of their back catalogue; she walked away from the big company to work with the newly-independent band a few years later).  The question was "If 'Los Marillos' were to play a few shows on the West Coast in early September, would there be sufficient interest?"  Posted on a number of online message boards and e-mail lists (along with the cities they could play on such short notice), this e-mail brought a lot of positive responses (along with the usual round of "why can't you play in such-and-such a town?").

And, in a flash, the most recent U.S. tour of (3/5) Marillion has now been scheduled:

9/6:  Solana Beach, CA - Belly Up Tavern
9/7:  West Hollywood, CA - Key Club
9/9:  Santa Ana, CA - Galaxy Theatre
9/11: San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall
9/14: Portland, OR - Aladdin Theatre
9/16: Seattle, WA - Chop Suey
Tickets should be available through Ticketmaster by the end of the week.  They also plan signing sessions in local record stores along the way (which they usually accompany with brief acoustic sets); these should also be announced within the next week or so.

I'm not certain yet whether I'll try to attend any of these shows; XM Radio broadcast a 60-minute in-studio live set by the trio a few nights ago (it was recorded at the end of the June mini-tour) and it sounded great (they performed some very interesting choices, including "Fantastic Place" from Marbles).  Among other things, my friend Bryan is getting married at the end of September and I'm still torn whether or not I'll fly to Kansas City for that.  Although I do have some money right now, it's almost as if I'm afraid to spend any of it (I REALLY need to buy a new vehicle); instead, I've been searching online for high-interest money markets and CD's to deposit cash into.

But I do owe myself something "special"; going to San Francisco or Seattle for a show (and a bit of sightseeing) will be A LOT less expensive than going to London in December (and warmer, too!).  I can do this trip on a tight budget (especially since Southwest has some great deals on airfare right now).  My friend Mike in Montana (who I met at the Boulder Marillion show last September) is seriously thinking about going to the Seattle show (being on a Friday night ties in with my schedule as well).  We'll see...

But at least a band I love — my favorite group of musicians, in fact — is enjoying some level of "success" on this side of the Atlantic.  I'm very happy for that, whether or not I get to see them play live again (or talk to the various members again).  (And if I don't get out to the West Coast for this tour, at least all of the shows in June were recorded and one was even filmed — for various future releases!)