Four Trombones and Madison King

I did not feel like going home after work on Friday so I caught a DART train downtown. Tonight was one of the Arts District’s Block Parties – with a whole bunch of activities going on in and between the three museums along Flora Street. I caught a train quickly and arrived early so I found a bench, sat down with my Kindle, and read while the organizers organized and the crowd slowly began to grow.

Food trucks at the Arts District Block Party. There were two lines like this.

The line of food trucks grows as they pull in and set up.

The Museum Tower Death Ray strikes.

I found a nice shady spot under the cypress trees along Flora and then I was struck by the solar death ray beamed down from the Museum Tower. I swear that thing raises the temperature ten degrees.

I ate some rolls from my favorite sushi food truck and then wandered around a bit, visiting the Nasher. The Nasher isn’t too much fun during these events – an invading horde of families charge down early and take over the whole garden, marking off their own private little Balkan squares of territory with blankets. The adults then plop down and proceed to get hammered on cheap bottles of wine concealed in Crate and Barrel wicker baskets received as gifts while their precious hell-spawn run around screaming and climbing on the Henry Moore sculpture until the museum guards shoo them away.

There was a band and later a movie but the scene was too depressing so I moved on.

I listened to a lecture in the Crow’s Jade Room on meditation and creativity which was interesting.

I headed out into the crowd again and was contemplating giving it all up and catching a train home when a woman walked by that looked familiar. It took a second for me to remember, but the sock-monkey tattoo on her right bicep gave it away – it was Madison King, a singer that I had heard perform at the first Patio Session earlier this year.

She must be scheduled on the outdoor plaza by the Museum of Art. I was up to staying for her performance, so I stuck around. Wandering down there, I found a band setting up. You don’t see this every day… a trombone quartet.

They called themselves The Maniacal 4… and I enjoyed them. Their between-song patter was the worst I have ever heard, but they could play the trombone. They played a number of their own compositions, which were a little sophisticated for that crowd and venue – but they pulled it off.

Then they brought out a rhythm section and launched into playing some 1970’s rock on the trombone. It worked better than it sounds – even though they picked some tunes that should not be brought into the future (Jane by Starship and Carry On my Wayward Son by Kansas… for example). All in all, they were by far the most entertaining trombone quartet I have heard at an Arts District evening show in a while.

It didn’t take them long to pack up and Madison King took over at ten. As before, I enjoyed hearing her and the crowd seemed into it. You can hear some of her work at this site.

I took some photos, but it’s tough under those lighting conditions (it’s way too dark). I have to use long exposures and brace my camera on a wall or something to minimize shaking. White balance is a bitch under the weird lighting color combinations and my camera isn’t as new as it used to be – it isn’t as fast as they make them nowadays. Still, it gives me something to do.

The first Patio Session

In my neverending quest for free stuff to do I came upon an article touting this year’s Patio Sessions at Sammons Park in front of the Opera House in the Dallas Arts District. That sounded like a plan, so I rearranged some scheduling, dragged myself out of bed a little earlier so I could leave work on time, and took the DART Red Line from work downtown.

I got there in plenty of time – they weren’t even set up when I arrived. The two musical guests for this, the first Patio Session of the year were Madison King and Calhoun.

It was really nice. With the evening sun starting to set, the light in the Arts District was thick and gorgeous. The musicians played in front of the reflecting pool between the Winspear and the Wyly – which is a particularly attractive spot. The skyscrapers of downtown all glowed in the evening light like warm mountain spires and far overhead the aluminum sunscreen reached out with a welcoming last bit of shade. The crowd was light and super mellow – most people brought blankets and spread out on the patches of bright green grass around the pool. The weather, unusual for North Texas, was perfect – the killer summer heat hasn’t arrived yet.

Madison King was up first and did an excellent acoustic set. Everything was so relaxed and chilled – it was just what I wanted – a perfect escape at the end of a day.

Between the bands I wandered over to the food trucks and bought something to eat. There were plenty of tables – my only difficulty was balancing my food on the way over. Most people found their way into the roped-off area with little tables where they were selling alcohol. Even though this was outside, the sound was good and you didn’t have to scrunch up close – though you could if you wanted to. The only downside was the periodic roar of a Southwest Jet overhead and, for some reason, a couple of times the bells of the nearby Catholic Church erupted into a cacophony of clanging – which usually is cool, but clashed with the music.

I wandered back for Calhoun’s set. They were using an instrument I had never seen before – it was like an accordion in a ornate wooden box set on a stand. He would move one wall of the box back and forth and you could see the air going through little cloth valves. The box said “NAGI” on it and it didn’t take much work to find out what the instrument is. It’s a portable harmonium. These seem to be mostly used by Indian musicians, but it fit right in with what Calhoun was playing tonight. It enabled the three piece ensemble to have a deeper, more complex sound.

In their Youtube video for their SXSW showcase they look like a pop band, but again, for this setting, they went for a mellower, chilled out acoustic sound. They were very good at it and I really liked their set.

It didn’t last long – at 7:30 or so they were done. That’s nice for a work night, and I was able to catch the train before the sun set.

The Patio Sessions continue into the summer, every Thursday at 5:30. The lineup looks impressively diverse – and thankfully full of local talent – The Simon & Garfunkel tribute band looks cool, and I’m always up for a string quartet. I don’t know if it is always as relaxing and laid back – but I imagine it is. It might get more crowded as the season goes on, but there is plenty of room.

I’ll have to remember to bring a blanket next time.

Madison King at the first Patio Session

Madison King

The musicians play next to the reflecting pool in front of the Opera House

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The audience was very, very laid back.

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Tha Nagi harmonium that Calhoun used... very cool.

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