Feels So Good

Chuck Mangione comes to Wickenburg.

Last night, I had the privilege and pleasure to sit second row center at a Chuck Mangione concert. In Wickenburg.

Say what you will about Wickenburg’s lack of nearly everything — as I [too] often do — but it has two extraordinary things that make life here a bit more interesting. One of them is the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts. And each year, the folks who manage the Webb Center do a damn good job at lining up entertainers to inject a little culture into this otherwise cultural black hole.

The annual lineup is always a mix of entertainers. There’s country music, jazz, dance, spoken word, and more. While most acts will appeal to adults — after all, more than half of Wickenburg’s winter population is over 55 — there are usually a handful appropriate for families. That’s great (if local families take the kids out) because it exposes them to quality entertainment with a higher cultural value than what they’re probably watching on television. What’s great about the Webb Center is that while adult ticket prices are in the $30 to $45 range, kids tickets are usually just $5.

Product ImageMike and I normally attend one or two performances at the Webb Center each season. In November, we saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas with the David Benoit Quartet.” Mr. Benoit and his companions played a combination of their own music, as well as classic Peanuts music by Vince Guaraldi. It was a great show and perfect for the upcoming Christmas season.

Last night’s performance by Chuck Mangione and his five-piece band was, by far, the most enjoyable performance I’ve attended at the Webb Center. The music was full of energy — my foot was tapping from the very first note to the last. Each member of the ensemble took turns entertaining us with solos while they played Mangione favorites like Bellavia, Main Squeeze, and Chase the Clouds Away, Children of Sanchez. They played for 90 minutes without interruption, left the stage, and returned to a standing ovation to play the classic jazz hit, Feels So Good. Mr. Mangione quipped that the song had put both his daughters through college.

Chuck Mangione Autographed CDAfter the show, most people left quickly, as they usually do at the Webb Center. But those of us who remained behind got the opportunity to meet Mr. Mangione in person. There was quite a crowd for him, which was great to see. I was one of the last to step up. I’d bought a CD at the end of the show (as I usually do) and Mr. Mangione autographed it for me while I thanked him for coming to Wickenburg.

Last night’s concert was sold out, which is always great to see. There were people in the audience who had come from as far away as Connecticut and Tennessee just to see the show. It’s somewhat embarrassing when “big name” musicians like David Benoit or R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton (who came last year) come to Wickenburg and play to a half- or three-quarters-full house. After all, the Webb Center only has 600 seats — you’d think we’d be able to get 600 people to come to a live performance that didn’t require a lengthy drive down to Phoenix or Scottsdale. Unfortunately, not everyone in Wickenburg understands or appreciates the value of this great cultural facility. For those of us who do, it’s a special treat.

And in case you’re wondering what the extraordinary thing in Wickenburg is, it’s the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. Don’t let its appearance from the street fool you — it’s bigger and better than it looks. Next time you’re in Wickenburg, see for yourself.

My iTunes Plus Shopping Spree

I pick up a bunch of albums full of classics my parents used to listen to.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s; my parents grew up in the 40s and 50s. When I was a kid — before I learned to tune in a radio by myself, that is — I was kind of stuck listening to the kind of music my parents liked. I’m talking about Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and other “vocalists.”

Although I didn’t really like the music, I didn’t hate it, either. And nowadays, hearing those old songs brings back memories from my childhood. I can still remember trimming the Christmas tree in the living room of our New Jersey home, listening to “It Was a Very Good Year” from an LP on the console stereo by the stairs.

I’ve been collecting some of those old songs for a while, as well as songs from way before that time — big band songs that really made you want to swing. But I never really got into collecting this music as much as I wanted to complete my classic rock collection with my favorite songs from the 70s and 80s.

Sometime within the past year or so, I stopped buying music online. I was simply fed up with the limitations put on the DRM-protected music available on the iTunes music store. I wasn’t interested in breaking the law and downloading music from illegal sites. I wanted to buy it. But I couldn’t see buying an entire CD at a store for $15 or more (plus tax or shipping or both). So I pretty much stopped buying music, except, of course for new releases by my favorite artists: Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, etc.

Frank Sinatra Album CoverEnter iTunes Plus. I wrote about it on Wednesday, explaining how you could use it to update your iTunes Store purchases of EMI-published music to remove the DRM and improve sound quality. One of the things I didn’t mention in that article is that I bought a DRM-free album, Classic Sinatra – His Greatest Performances, 1953-1960. I don’t know about you, but I think 20 songs for $12.99 and immediate gratification without DRM restrictions is a pretty good deal.

So good a deal, in fact, that I stopped by on Thursday and picked up two other albums: Dino – The Essential Dean Martin and The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

I’m buying this music for a few reasons reasons. First of all, I like it and I want to add it to my collection. Second, I think it’s a great deal. And third, I want to do my part to support legal online sales of DRM-free music.

Let’s face it: I’m not a music pirate and most people who rip CDs and buy music for their iPod aren’t either. The music industry is not going to go broke by removing protection from the music. I believe more people will buy it with the restrictions removed. I believe that this could be the answer to turn around the music industry, to get more people buying music again.

But then again, I might be extremely naive about this whole thing and one of the few fools buying iTunes Plus music.

What do you think? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts with other site visitors.

Gila Monster

My first Final Cut Express video project.

After spending three days going through a tutorial to learn Final Cut Express HD, I was ready to create my first video project. I’m sharing it with blog readers so you can see how much effort a person can expend on 25 seconds of video.

About the Project

This particular project features a Gila Monster (pronounced “heela monster”), which is a rather large lizard that can be found in the Arizona desert. If I’m lucky, I see one or two of these in a year, so they’re not exactly common. They are, like so many things in the desert, poisonous, so you don’t want to get too close. But since they’re not exactly fast and they’re definitely not aggressive, you can get photos of them in action if you have equipment with you.

On a backroad trip with Mike and some friends, we happened to come upon one croassing the road. I had my video camera with me and whipped it out to capture some pretty decent footage. This Final Cut Express project cuts out the boring shaky bits, replaces our silly comments with music, and adds opening and closing titles. This is the first in a series of short videos I hope to add to wickenburg-az.com, so make the site more interesting to visitors.

But this is also an experiment to check out video formats and Final Cut Express’s export feature. I had great success when exporting to QuickTime movie format, for iPod, and for Apple TV. But the Windows Media Player export didn’t work right at all and the AVI format was extremely poor quality, despite the file size, so I’m not going to distribute them. I just spent another few minutes using the iPod version of the file to create an e-mail version using QuickTime’s Share command. That worked best of all for the Web view of the file. Only 3.3 MB (which is smaller than the iPod version, and it looks pretty good.

Getting it Online

XHTML purists will tell you that the EMBED tag is a no-no in Web development. I think it has something to do with Internet Explorer which, for some reason, can’t interpret XHTML and CSS like the rest of the Web browsers on this planet.

So this project is also an experiment to see if the QuickTime Embed plugin for WordPress will work. If you’re reading this article shortly after I put it online and there’s no QuickTime movie below (or if the whole site is messed up), it’s because I’m trying this out and debugging. (Check in again in about 30 minutes.)

That said, here’s the movie with a Poster movie. I think I’l leave the iPod file for wickenburg-az.com distribution.