Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Altadena Cool: The Coffee Gallery



I drink coffee strictly for the drug. It's a foul-tasting beverage to my way of thinking, be it dripped, pressed, or percolated, whether hatched from artisanally roasted beans or Folgers Instant.



That said, I like the Coffee Gallery. The Coffee Gallery is what Starbucks pretended to be back in the day -- with saggy sofas and cast-off chairs; a comfortable and welcoming shabby that doesn't go all chic when your back is turned.

The Coffee Gallery has the usual caffeinated suspects, offering every manner of coffee, plus light refreshments, and, sometimes, entertainment. Like the bluegrass music this past Sunday.



Bluegrass smacks of the Great Depression to me, but likely I've seen too many Capra and Preston Sturges movies. It has roots in Celtic music, yet is assertively American and militantly unpretentious. The lyrics don't sugar-coat what lies ahead in life's great pageant; things will go horribly and irredeemably wrong -- floods, famines, prison, betrayal, desertion. Loss of love and life, that's a given.

And the style of singing -- the polar opposite of opera. Opera opens its mouth and flashes the tonsils. With bluegrass, the lips are pursed, stoic, and hardly move, as though the story is almost more than the heart can bear.

45 comments:

  1. You got that right about its being hard times music, tough people, tough lives, lots of drunks, more than a few murdered women and some down-in-the-dirt barnyard lyrics. Lots of it is also dance music and the roots go further than Celtic. Immediate sources are the older Appalachian mountain music, which itself is a lively miscegination of Scotch-Irish from the Borderlands and Ireland [duh!] and African music. The banjo was brought here by Africans under well know circumstances. More hard times. This added a new rhythm and syncopation to the fiddle music, and then blues crept in. Guitar, mandolin, autoharp and bass were mixed in variously. Earl Scruggs changed the banjo picking style which then opened the door to Bluegrass, but its hem still drags in the old dirt.

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  2. I like the Coffee Gallery but some reason I don't go often. Another thing I like are your BnW's!

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  3. I think it's a human foible to declare, "I love Blah Blah Blah," when we mean "I love quite a few passages of Blah Blah Blah." Two of my main Blah Blahs are poetry and bluegrass, but what I love is much less than 30% of either.

    For me, the pitfalls of bluegrass are voices and fiddles that are shrill. I don't care for the mandolin. The banjo can be too noisy. But when the voices and instruments are in the middle or low ranges, and the banjo is filling in with licks that are magical but not too full of themselves, bluegrass is one of the best things in sound. While some lyrics are maudlin or oversimplified, the best might be as close to real poetry as any music can be. Even in the mediocre lyrics, there's usually something pretty clever (or moving) here and there.

    Ok, you tricked that out of me, Hiker, and you knew you would. Happy now? I wish you a caffeine jitterbug.

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  4. Banjo, that's so funny! Because I just got back from the stables (where else would you go after writing about blue grass) and had an email from Doris saying she hoped she hadn't gotten too academic about it all. And I meant to reply, don't worry, Banjo will be all over this. But you were already all over this. I love the insights from both of you.

    Cafe, thank you. I tried to go a little Woody Guthrie on it.

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  5. Sounds like a great place with character. That's what's missing from all these homogenized big-chain stores.

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  6. It sounds like a great place to enter a different world. Bluegrass is blunt, hard-times music, but often is sung in wonderful harmonies. Some popular singers like Emmylou Harris and Allison Kraus sing it well.

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  7. You've mastered the tractor! I'm intrigued after all the analysis of Bluegrass. You didn't supply a link so I'll have to find a few pieces myself to enjoy.

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  8. The Coffee Gallery sounds cool, although I'm no fan of coffee, either. Too bitter. Blue Grass is OK, but I'm with Banjo on not liking the shrill parts, too. Glad you and the new tractor are playing well together.

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  9. Pursed lips, yes, but also at times a one-hand-in-the-air unrestrained gaiety to it, at least it seems so to me. Starbucks? Too many laptops and intent busy-ness. I'll take the sagging sofas any old time.

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  10. Lol, lot's of people somehow like that coffee kick luckily I've stayed away and seen what it can do. But I still like my sun brewed ice tea. Looks like a sound place to visit :)

    ~Randall

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  11. Carolynn, I don't know how this place stays afloat because the county plagues it endlessly. Gumption, I guess.

    Ms M, blunt. That's a word I could have used.

    Margie and Bellis, no, the tractor was kind of mean. The best pictures were a blur, and I was going to post one of them anyway, but it made me carsick.

    Bellis, I'm hoping Doris or Banjo circles back and gives a link. I'm curious.

    John Evans, one-hand-in-the-air -- that's good.

    Randall Cogburn, on top of having the best name I've heard all year, I'll bet you play the guitar.

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  12. Sounds like a great place, Karin!
    I would love to have a Coffee Gallery like this one near my house...

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  13. I love it. Appalachia in Altadena. Bellis, try the sound track from Winter's Bone.

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  14. Wish I'd been there with you Hiker!!! I love Bluegrass! One of the few things I can be grateful to my ex for!!! He played the banjo and mandolin and we went to many Bluegrass festivals...I grew to love Bluegrass...saw Allison Kraus at one of the first festivals we went to.

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  15. Would be nice if I could spell Bluegrass, eh? Ok, one word, got it.

    Sonia, come on up and Chieftess come on down; we'll have a good time.

    Des, Winter's Bone is a great choice. Pretty great movie, too.

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  16. I've been meaning to see Winter's Bone. I'm definitely moving it to the top of the list now.

    Love that top photo. Those are some soulful eyes.

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  17. Circle back. Links. Hoo boy. My experience is more immersive than academic, starting in NJ many years ago with station WWVA, Wheeling W. Va. [big transmitter] Looking for links, I suggest looking at Wiki history of banjo plus others, check out the Virginia Mtn. Boys [bluegrass, Smithsonian], Iron Mtn. String Band [old time, Smithsonian], and anything Bill Monroe, who straddles it all. You will find old border ballads, fiddle and banjo used in ways differing from the strictly Celtic. Sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK2sbpzF0w0

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  18. PS. Re Iron Mtn. String Band: There are two by that name. I'm referring to the one in the Smithsonian archives. The fiddler, Caleb Finch, learned to fiddle from Glen Neaves while collecting music in the field.

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  19. I was going to say I love bluegrass but after reading some of your comments I'm afraid that would sound too simplistic. I do however love coffee! I am down from 6 double expressos a day to 2 lattes. No sugar of course. Age does that to you.

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  20. Just for you Georgia, there are the Georgia Skillet Lickers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFG9eVbkq70&list=AL94UKMTqg-9CCMQlzNUhW2qtBTTc3GYFa
    Check out Cotton Eyed Joe
    These were recorded in the 30s and 40s, so the quality is pretty screechy

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  21. You go, Doris, that was great. (Georgia, at least you can spell bluegrass. I had to sneak back when no one was looking and make a few corrections. Please don't tell anyone.)

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  22. Bluegrass is best listened to in a large group of people of like mind...hearing the beat...stomping your feet...
    Loved those bluegrass festivals!!!

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  23. So true Chieftess. Back in the day, even pre-bluegrass, it was a part of getting together, whether it be a cabin or a hall. I'm sure that was true even further back, both from northern isles and deep Africa. And on this continent the joining made something wild and wonderful, unique to us'n.

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  24. Cool photos from the Coffee Gallery. I'm a big fan of bluegrass, possibly because it's one of the only kinds of music besides the endless stream of classical that I ever heard my parents play when I was a kid, and it seemed a lot more interesting to me. I'm sure I heard a fair amount of background bluegrass growing up in Indiana and Kentucky, but I was in my 20s before I started searching it out on my own. I saw Ralph Stanley in SF about 13 years ago (wow!) and I have a good friend who plays fiddle in bluegrass band in St. Paul. Live concerts are definitely the best, especially outdoors when it's warm and there are young kids bopping unselfconsciously to the beat unaware of the lyrics.

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  25. It's impossible to see too many Capra movies.

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  26. Circling back:

    For googling a beginning dose of bluegrass—not too extreme—I agree with others on Alison Krause and Emmylou Harris, though I usually miss at least half their lyrics. Also try Doc Watson.
    Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

    Ralph Stanley’s and Bill Monroe’s bands go back to the 1930s and have some of that shrillness, but it’s still good stuff.

    Chris Thile.
    Black Diamond (West Virginia).
    Mother Maybelle Carter (or, the Carter Family)
    June Carter Cash (Maybelle’s daughter, Johnny’s wife)
    Gillian Welch
    Iris DeMenthe

    Or you could google any of the names John Hartford mentions here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy_CZDtIuz0


    Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKjnMMMYE-c

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  27. And here's Doc Watson with a lullaby that shouldn't be too abrasive for anyone:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYSIFzSX7E0

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  28. Doris, in SE Ohio, I too grew up with WWVA in Wheeling WV. I think it was one of two AM stations available to us in the daytime. At night I could get New Orleans (the Blue Room of the Something Hotel) and Boston (WBZ?? the cool stuff that normal teens were supposed to listen to. Still don't know what was up with that reception. Some science-y stuff about waves, I suppose. Doris and others, I'll check the links you offer.

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  29. Katie, that's a pretty picture. I came to bluegrass when I lived in Southern Illinois, and also associate the music with sunshine and summer.

    Banjo, that's kind of amazing that you and Doris grew up listening to the same WV station, I mean, we're not talking about a pool of a million people here. I'll take breaks throughout the day and play with links.

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  30. Banjo, WWVA was pretty funny in NJ. On top of a hill it was loud and clear [Just send in your $1.50, that's one doller and fifty cents folks, and we will send you a gen-u-wine em'bossed plastic bedspread with the 10 commandments right down the front etc.]but down in a hollow it faded to nothing.I also got WNEW from NY, with Al Jazzbo Collins playing late night jazz from the "Purple Grotto" but that's a different musical road.

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  31. I really like those atmospheric B & W's as well. The tractor is plowing.

    Right now I'm listening to the soundtracks to Cold Mountain and O Brother Where Art Thou. I love that nasaly twang. Just can't get enough. Even the shape note singing is grand.

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  32. What a GREAT description of
    Bluegrass. The honesty and pull-no-punches directness of Bluegrass speaks to me, too. And this place sounds so very comfy-cozy...!(LOVE the pictures!)
    The supremely talented Gillian Welch is the younger daughter of very very old and dear
    friends of mine---both musicians---their music 180 degrees away from what Gillian creates...But this music she creates is such a part of her being---and her soul, if you will, that one would believe without a doubt that her roots are definitely in the Appalachian area....
    Too bad I am confined---The Coffee Gallery sounds like a great place to go, whether you drink coffee or not!

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  33. Facebook has spoiled me, Karin. I just want to click a 'Like' button on this.

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  34. I love Gillian Welch. Just listened to this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kejux0z7SKA

    She really is supremely talented. Well said.

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  35. But Terry think of all the comment Likes you'd have to click. This way, a few short words and you're good to go.

    Paula, you're so right. Sometimes no other sound will do. (O Brother is a great collection.)

    Lady of the Hills, two fans of Gillian's here -- Susan and me. And you're right about the roots.

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  36. Surely you suspected I'd have to horn in and do my own thing on this subject. It's up now, offers some additional links and info. In the meantime, of course, two people dropped Gillian Welch before I did. Oh well, it's not a competition.

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  37. best opera vs bluegrass option ever!

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  38. Sometimes it's best just to sit quietly and let the pros take over. Enjoy the passion with my jello cup

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  39. ^ ^ ^

    Well heck, thats an invite thats hard to refuse

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  40. Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch singing "I'll Fly Away"...
    one of the best!!!

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  41. I totally agree with you about coffee. In my way of thinking, decaffeinated coffee is an absurd and nonsensical concept.

    Your description of Bluegrass in the last paragraph is the best I've ever heard. I love Bluegrass.

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  42. What an action-packed post and thread. Can't wait to check out the links. Must head out for jello cups now.

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