Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves

With pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in just three days, now is the time to find out what 2016 has in store for the Atlanta Braves. My latest post at Banished to the Pen, a collaboration with another Atlanta-based BttP contributor and, thanks to crowdsourcing, some of you, has everything you could want in an MLB season preview post: statistics, laments, graphs, hopes, prospect evaluations, and references to Levon Helm, Kansas, and marijuana.  What more could you need?

Opening Day is less than two months away, making now the perfect time to digest this tasty season preview.


The full post is available here.


Hang out at the Hangout

Get down at the go-round. Flip flop at the tip top. Perhaps there have been music festivals with better names, but you would be hard pressed to find any better arranged than the Hangout Fest, which I attended last weekend.

In its third year, the Hangout Festival happens right on the beach in Gulf Shores, AL, and its 2012 lineup featured a high-end collection of popular rock, indie, jam, and other sorts of acts. The headliners were Jack White, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Dave Matthews Band. Other notables included the String Cheese Incident, the Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, M. Ward, Alabama Shakes, and many, many more.

Two of my favorites, Steve Winwood and Space Capone, were playing on Sunday, but we started the day with another one I really enjoy: Mavis Staples. The 72-year-old singer was in strong voice and persona, and her band was working hard to keep up with her. Although she may have thrown the crowd off a bit early (or played right into its hands) when she became convinced, as a result of some eager heckling, that she was in a town called “Roll Tide, Alabama,” she soon reminded everybody she was hip to the modern scene, forcefully invoking the spirit of Levon Helm after performing “The Weight.” Overall, her set was enjoyable, drawing on different periods of her long career, and the hour was up much too soon.

Later that afternoon, on the same stage, Winwood turned in an excellently crafted set, the best I heard all weekend. Like Mavis, he used his hour-long set to hit on different points of his career, and it just so happens that he has one of the richest, most dynamic careers of any musician. He started and finished with his two early hits from the Spencer Davis Group days (circa 1966), opening with “I’m a Man” and closing with “Gimme Some Lovin’.” In between, he grabbed a couple Traffic tunes (“Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and a very extended “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”), two Eric Clapton-related numbers (Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and, from Winwood’s most recent album, Nine Lives, “Dirty City”), and brought everyone to his and her feet with a rousing rendition of maybe his biggest pop hit, “Higher Love.” On Hammond organ, Stratocaster, and signature vocals, Winwood turned in a solid set that lived up to great expectations and was a highlight of the festival.

For all their possibility, opportunity, sun, and sand, festivals can be pretty tiring, so we found … Keep reading …

The DET Offensive: Recipe for a Slumpbuster

When your baseball team is in a bad way like the Tigers have been, what can they do to get out of the collective slump? It’s a question as old as baseball, but if you’re playing in the AL Central anytime between the 1990s and the present day, the return path to winning ways runs through Kansas City. If you can get them to come over to your place, all the better. Mix in young Rick Porcello’s righting ship, add a pinch of Victor Martinez’s happy return to the clubhouse (if not the playing field), and extract Delmon Young’s unproductive toxicity. Score five runs in the first inning. Allow that to rise into a 9-0 lead. Let settle over the remaining five innings into a 9-3 victory.

Keep reading…

Friday Jam: He was Levon, and He was a Good Man.

The news came out of Woodstock on Tuesday, from his wife and daughter, that Levon Helm was in the final stages of his battle with cancer. When I first read it, I had to close the door to my office for a few minutes. I couldn’t quite figure out why it shook me up so. It’s not like I ever met the guy. I saw him perform live only once. But he’s unique among my musical icons, if you can call them that, insofar as I feel like we’d relate to one another. That we’d have something to talk about, that he wouldn’t be too uppity to say a few words, and that it wouldn’t just be polite conversation. That a man who grew up in a town called Turkey Scratch would be all that you’d expect – easy going enough to sit down and have a beer with you and tell stories for hours, no matter who you were. By all accounts, he was. I’d conned myself into thinking we’d been old friends.
At that moment when you realize that The Band sings The Weight and Up On Cripple Creek, it occurs to you that you’ve been a fan a lot longer than you’ve known. But my first experience with The Band, the moment that I had a realization that the band I was loving was none other than The Band, occurred in my sophomore year of college (So late – for shame!). My roommate at the time had “discovered” them recently, and honored his discovery by playing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Over and over again, at top volume, for a couple weeks. No exaggeration. I’d say he played it ad nauseum, but I can’t recall it even getting old.
And it didn’t get old when, each year, AD would call us together at Thanksgiving to celebrate and fellowship in a law school classroom, of all places, to watch the Last Waltz. Ironically, Levon hated that movie. But for me, and probably a lot of other folks, it’s the first glimpse you have of this man, and the spectacle of him crooning as he bangs the hell out of those drums.
When I finally saw him play live, at the Ramble at the Ryman in 2010, I was two weeks away from graduating law school. It was one of those late April days – sunny, not too cool, not too hot, air heavy with the fragrance of blooms and electric with life – that is the truest blessing of a southern Spring. A group of us grabbed dinner and headed downtown to worship. A perfect storm of circumstances that set it up to be a magical night, no matter which guests he brought on stage. The voice wasn’t what it had been before his surgeries, but it was still beautiful. As AD said to me on Tuesday afternoon, even afterwards, he never lost his inflection, that sound that makes it so immediately clear who is singing up there. But the voice sometimes faltered, so singing duties shifted throughout the evening. Still, he was grinning from ear to ear the entire night. Truly, I can’t recall a moment when he wasn’t singing or grinning. Or as this reviewer put it, looking like a proverbial pig in the shit. They closed the night with a cover of I Shall Be Released, and then I walked out and down onto Broadway with a crowd full of people who were quiet with the recognition that the night had been a special one, even by Nashville standards. For me, it still makes The List.
He left us yesterday, so we’ll honor him with today’s jam. We picked The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, but if you are satisfied with one song right now, you’re a better  man than me. To that end, here’s a great spotify playlist from Rolling Stone to keep you listening for a while longer.
Ramble on, old friend.

Whip to Grave: Levon Helm, the Real Voice of America (via Esquire)

This was healing music, but it was in no way peaceful. Levon’s voice made sure of that. It was tough and sound and brooked no easy answers. (When, an album later, he voiced the story of Virgil Kane, a grunt in the Confederate army, he managed to push the story beyond politics. You swear by the mud below your feet and you make a pact with the land that nothing can break.) It was a Southern voice, certainly, but there was in it that universal sense that we are all in this great experiment together, that we hold a number of truths to be self-evident and the ones that Mr. Jefferson listed were only the very beginning of them. That there is a commonwealth that binds us, through the worst of what we can do to each other, and the worst of what we can make of our promise. For all the wild rhetoric and the political posturing, and for all the horror that extended from My Lai to the floor of the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel and back again, that we all had an America to come back to, no matter how long we were away, no matter even if we were half-past dead. Because that America was the America of the tall tale, the underground history, the renegade, buccaneer country that belongs to all of us. Levon Helm told those stories. He gave that history a voice that we could all hear over the din of the times.

He was the true Voice of America, as far as I’m concerned. … Read More

(via Esquire)


I’ve praised and criticized Charles Pierce here before. I’ve never criticized his ability to write, though, and he posted the excellent textual snapshot excerpted above this morning, as Levon’s health currently and precipitously fades.