All I’m saying is: if someone has chicken wire and a kiddie pool we could make this happen. I wrote this a few years ago. My life was very different then, but this post needed only a tiny bit of freshening to still be true.
Firechucking. Fills me with delight.

Come on in, 2014. I think we’re going to be good friends.

Originally posted on High Jinks Below Stares:

“We are born of the world and we are born of the stars.  None of our changing perspectives, religious or scientific, can change that fact.”

The above is an excerpt from astrophysicist Adam Frank’s recent post on NPR’s 13.7 blog, a lovely and well written piece, but if I may interpolate:

Between the world and the stars there is this–winter comes for us all. It’s not just the shiver, the fear of hunger, the barren branches. It’s the fundamental symbolism:  Cold is the corpse’s texture, white its complexion, inevitable and too soon its timing. As the land is, we will someday be.

No matter what happens after, if you don’t grieve the loss of this life, you are a fool. And not the Fool of the tarot, unmapped and awake to infinite possibility, either. The dumbass denial kind. That fool.

It sucks to realize we’re just stock characters on a crowded stage and all the…

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John McKenna’s New Blue Sky

But before we get to that–

You should be writing reviews. You like the freedom to choose books and music without some focus-group-driven-middleman telling you what’s “good?”  You enjoy the digital world’s capacity for instant gratification? You want to help that author or artist that stirred your soul?

Write. A. Damn. Review.

In the digital world, your word carries weight. You have clout. Use it.

Okay, now where was I…oh yeah.

John McKenna’s New Blue Sky–you guessed it–a review.NewBlue Sky front

John McKenna’s New Blue Sky represents what happens when hard rock’s passion grows up and develops, instead of becoming a parody of itself. An album that took seven years to record, filled with songs penned over the course of nearly twenty years, New Blue Sky’s music manages to show you where it’s been without giving up its soul.

I don’t know if the album will, as McKenna says, change your DNA, but listening to these songs feels damn good. When using digital technology to sketch landscapes for the ear, it’s easy to lose the balance between what can be done with technology and what should be done. Yet, on this album, every instrument, sound, and fill strikes the ear as natural and thoughtfully arranged.

Like all of McKenna’s work, New Blue Sky is a concept album. It begins by examining the price we’ve already paid by exchanging our dreams of love for the cold currency of emotional safety. It then sets about exploring the possibilities for reclaiming those dreams and making them real.

Track one, “End Game,” introduces a sacrificial hero prepared to come back and show you the way if he lives through his own journey. Because he will …take the chances you won’t take… he can teach you how to feel. In the next track, “The House,” the narrator’s opening lesson is that the past where you were born and chained is nothing more than paper and glass.

The first thing that saves the album’s concept from hubris is the flawed humanity of the narrating voice. The “Rainbow Train’s” imagery of blood and razors sheds light on the shadows that inspire one to reject institutions of prescribed thought and choose the path of introspection instead. That internal exploration begins with a symbolic death and emergent rebirth in “Buried Under Winter.”

The second thing that saves this album from hubris is that the narrator, after his sojourn through night and winter, may actually be able to deliver on his initial claim. The first time I tried to listen to the sixth track’s “Purple Music,” I was at work and had to turn it off. The song spoke so directly to who and how I have become that I could not surrender my initial experience with it to just a casual listen.

With “That Look” the narrator shares introspection’s discovery that figuring out how to feel means developing the capacity to feel entirely alone. “Maybe One Day” offers both a shared sense of vulnerability and the hope that we can dream the world into how it should be.

The climax of the concept’s narrative comes with “When you See Me.” The voices of the sacrificial hero and the flawed man are united with the listener in the common cause of our shared desire for agape, the absolute acceptance of spiritual love. And yet, with “Maybe Love” the narrator sacrifices his hero’s mantle, and agape circles back to the fragile uncertainty of eros. He finds peace by embracing the storms and tides of a more personal kind of love.

The album’s final song exhorts us to stop looking for an external hero to do for us that which we can only do for ourselves. It exhorts us to stand, open our hands, and bring the light simply by showing others that it can be done.




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Northern Colorado Flood Benefit with Angus Mohr

I didn’t even need to ask if they were going to do a flood benefit show. IRialtoBenefitPaul knew there would be one. Angus Mohr and family are the type of people who, when bad things happen, they try to balance the scales.

The details follow below:

 Saturday September 28th, at the Rialto Theater, we would like you to join us, Angus Mohr, in showing those who have lost so much that they do not stand alone. The show starts at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. We’ll be donating a portion of the money taken in to local organizations helping Northern Colorado’s flood victims. The more seats we fill, the more money we’ll give. We’ll also be donating a percentage of merchandise sales.


 On stage, we’ve long joked about whiskey being the water of life. However, when the waters of life rise, as they did for so many, it’s music that helps us climb to higher ground where we can all stand together. You don’t need to know the words to raise your voice; you don’t need to know the steps to dance. 


 You don’t need a roof either, but we are lucky enough to still have one at Loveland’s historic Rialto Theater. Our Rialto show has always been a celebration of our connection to other Front Range musicians. In addition to sharing the stage with acts like Skansen and Hanssen, Angus Mohr’s line-up always grows by a member or two the night of the Rialto Show. We still rock out, but it’s also a chance to get our art on. We’ll play songs rarely heard at festival or club shows that embody the fullest expression of who we are.

 So, come on, express yourself; come dance and sing along. Let’s do some good while having a good time. 

 Yours in appreciation (as always),

Angus Mohr


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When I Die, Please Send Flowers

The world does not need more practicality, more measured decisions, and sterile good sense like “in lieu of flowers.” The world needs beauty in all it’s extravagance.

I just finished reading Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential. For a lot of the book, I felt conflicted. Cut flowers engineered to the point where they couldn’t reproduce, or give off scent, or survive without a host of chemical fungicides and pesticides. Stewart quotes one grower as saying, “I wouldn’t ever advise taking a bath in rose petals.” Not to mention the hazards these chemicals pose for the mostly underpaid and under-insured workers who employ them.

Yet, when I walk past mounds and bouquets of petals and green– lilies, orchids, tulips, gladiolas– and yes roses, of course, roses– something lifts in my soul. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this paean to plant sex organs if it was summer and all the flowers I could want were just a mountain meadow away.

IMG_5414But it’s winter, and cold sucks the color from the ground and bleaches the sky. In the Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan wrote about the Dutch tulip craze, and throughout the book, he talks about how plants have turned us into their bees– except we don’t just pollinate, we propagate, nurture, and protect.

When it comes to cut flowers, we are generally not interested in anything practical– not nourishment, or investment return, or anything other than the way looking at it makes us feel. There is something deeply humanizing about being slaves to beauty for beauty’s own sake.

And the drawbacks– chemicals and bad working conditions. Those aren’t the flowers’ fault. Those are our misplaced and far too “practical” value systems at work– demanding the most from the plant, and the people, and the environment, without wanting to give much of anything in return. But we’re learning, we can vote with our wallets and choose ethical growers.

A flower’s beauty is more than petal deep. It represents that final blaze and thrill of vitality  before the sleep of seedpod and the death that brings about new life. When I die, that’s the image I want coming back to my children, my friends, and family– that existence is a brilliant joy, and its seeming transience is only because our essence is so deeply rooted that we can forget to see it.

So, hell yeah, when I die, send all the flowers you want– and while you’re at it, maybe pick up some for yourself tomorrow :).

Love you all.

I guess this is my Solstice post :).


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Lonigan’s Weekend

Back to back Angus Mohr shows. Their new album. Estes Park. Three reasons to love fall.

This is my shortest blog post ever.


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Don’t Let the Bad Guys Win– What you can do:

Dear Parents of Adams 12 Students and Friends of Adams 12 Teachers,

Our district has chosen not to abide by the contract that the teachers agreed to in good faith. Imagine if your mortgage company suddenly decided it needed some extra cash, so instead of accepting your contracted payments, it demanded payment of your entire balance.

In these difficult economic times, we teachers have tried to protect you and your children. We’ve taken salary cuts. We’ve begun doing for free what we used to do for pay. We’ve purchased more and more of our day-to-day supplies out of our own pockets.

We don’t want to let your children down. We know that quality education opens up the world for them, and we don’t want to see that world closed in by the short-sighted and politically motivated.

However, we cannot be successful in this fight for your children’s lives without your help.

Please remember the great teachers you had as a child and be generous in your memory to the ones you didn’t like much. Don’t buy into the some teachers care and some don’t mythology.

Teaching is hard. We care. We care enough to struggle through top-down demands, reduced services, and enormous class sizes. Even after tonight’s broken illusions and tattered trust, tomorrow we will be there, teaching, and trying to shield your child from all this for as long as we possibly can.

Please support us in standing up for your child. Lift your voice with ours. Don’t let us be demonized.

If we have to take organized action, please take the long view and know that  we have been sacrificing for years to try to keep this from happening.

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Angus Mohr’s Monster in the Box

This project reflects more than the hundreds of invisible hours that  go into creating a living representation of music that feels fresh and visceral. It is a snapshot of  of the sadness, beauty, and triumph that comes from wrestling with outer monsters and inner demons.

From crew member Damien Stelter’s, “What the…” on “Discovery,” the opening track, it’s clear that this album is a musical family affair. In addition to Paul’s bass and vocals, Byrd’s guitars, Steve’s drums, and Matthew’s–well everything but the kitchen sink–we have Gusty on didgeridoo,  as well as guest appearances by Kailin Yong, Tamra Hayden, and Gregg Hansen, three talented musicians featured on Mohr Fire’s Traditions Tartan and Tears CD.

The resulting Monster is alive with rich juxtapositions and vibrant sound.

“Andy Renwick’s Favourite Ferrret,” usually an early set invitation to fun at their live shows, brings all those long nights and summer dancing into your living room. Part of the studio’s magic is the element of  otherwise impossibility–like hearing pipes and whistles  at the same time on another live show favorite–the well wishing, “Forever Young.”

“Barbary Coast,” an Angus Mohr original, and one of their few love  songs, is occasionally played live (their combined performance of it with the Tradition, Tartan, and Tears folks last May was an unforgettable experience). However, on Monster, the exquisite layering of instruments establishes a coastal soundscape for the lyrical narrative:  “She came out of the fog in the night on the Barbary Coast…a vision a fantasy…she came into my life then took it away with her…I remember my life before the nights on the Barbary Coast…Maybe some day I’ll go back again.”

Fiddle and whistle solos unleash raw emotion against the tapestry of musically established tide. As it recedes, we’re left with with the poignant recognition that we couldn’t hold the magic or transcend the heartbreak, but at least our hearts beat to be broken and we touched bliss.

The theme is continued with the more down-to-earth, guitar driven, “Shady Grove” and given a lighthearted turn with “The Clumsy Lover,” an Angus thickened pipe tune that speeds faster and faster but for the four tempo changes that threaten to turn you into a clumsy dancer, if nothing else ;).

The song on this album that I most hoped for and feared to hear was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I am delightfully familiar with the talent at Mohr Fire Studio, but how could “Johnny” be “Johnny” without the poised posture and anticipatory shouts of the other Angus Mohr regulars? The guys at Mohr Fire made it easy. Following a military march, interspersed with the opening whistle and Paul’s vocal, you hear the shouts and laughter of various members of the Angus Mohr family.  It is, in many ways, like being there, making eye contact, and singing along in those few seconds before the song erupts, driving our frenzy before it.

The energy feeds into two folk-songs-turned-Angus-heavy of  sacrificed youth and blood, “Step it Out Mary” and “Foggy Dew.” With the next two tracks, that social destruction turns personal.  “Darkness Darkness” begins simply with Paul’s voice, acoustic guitar, and a few notes of piano. After the third verse, it breaks out.  A fevered fiddle and bereft wail complement the Angus sound and pipe solo. Then the emotion takes a gritty turn with “Hurt.”

You may think that between the NIN and Johnny Cash versions, there’s no where for this song to go. Yet, from the slow intro of Matt’s voice set against stripped-down piano, drums, and guitar, it’s clear that there’s plenty more for this song to say. Sprinkled in lightly enough to make you ache are some of the prettiest fills I’ve ever heard Byrd play, and Steve’s drums drive the mood as the tempo shifts back and forth. This song belongs to Angus Mohr before the bag pipes even start–and when they do…well, we can all use a good cry like the one I had the first time it poured through my earbuds.

Though “All Along the Watchtower” doesn’t always make the festival set list, it’s played at every other show. Yet, the placement of the Dylan-by-way-of-Hendrix Angus Mohr  staple positions it as the culmination or perhaps distillation of all the Monster’s themes.  We have indeed “…been through that/and this is not out fate.” And even as the “wind begins to howl,” and we die into Byrd’s guitar solo and  Matthew’s pipes, we’re reborn into the triumphant celebration that is “Scotland the Green.”

This Monster was well worth the wait.

It will soon be available in CD and download at various places, including the Angus Mohr store and CD Baby, but if I were you, I’d pick it up August 18th, at the Little Bear show. Get it signed, have a glass, and meet me on the dance floor for what promises to be yet another epic night.

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