Friday, July 24, 2009

INFINITY: THE HILLS ARE ALIVE

Sometimes I just have to put sports on the back burner and soak up some culture or history.

With trips to Gettysburg and Colonial Williamsburg in the books and a visit to Boston for a trek on Freedom Trail and a Whale Watch pending, my wife Lisa and I turned our attention toward music. And let me tell you that there is not a better venue anywhere than Infinity Hall in Norfolk.

Norfolk, long a center of culture as home to the Yale Summer School of Music, is located on Route 44 in the Northwest Hills west of Windsor and just east of Canaan.

Infinity Hall features an acoustically perfect setting in a stunning Victorian building that once served as a community center. Adjoining the cozy theater is the new Infinity Bistro with an eclectic menu as interpreted by executive chef Dan Fortin, who has cooked at such respected restaurants as Apricots in Farmington and Trumbull Kitchen in Hartford.

We didn’t eat at the Bistro. We certainly will after seeing it and viewing the menu, but back to the music.

There isn’t a bad seat in the house. Most of the seats are in an orchestra section in front of the stage. A limited number of higher priced seats that feature waitress service for drinks and meals from the Bistro are located in the mezzanine that hangs over the floor.

The stage is living-room snug. Given the acoustics, the surroundings must be quite inspiring to the musicians. Speakers are suspended from the ceiling on either side of the stage.

Our introduction to Infinity Hall came last winter when we saw Atlanta Rhythm Section, a hard-driving Southern rock band whose volume sent some patrons home early. Our second visit on Friday was to watch Aztec Two-Step perform the music of Simon and Garfunkel.

Aztec Two-Step – Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman – have been performing their mellifluous blend of folk and rock since 1971. They were joined on stage by New York City radio personality and Simon and Garfunkel biographer Pete Fornatale, whose personable manner and knowledge of his subject add a unique and welcome element to the show.

Rex and Neal methodically, passionately and brilliantly conducted a musical history tour of S & G’s incredible career, touching on all their greatest hits including “Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer” and “Scarborough Fair.”

The intimate gathering, obviously well-versed in the music of both S & G and Aztec Two-Step, sang along with such verve that it visibly inspired the musicians.

The familiar sound of thunder could be heard over the music toward the end of the second set. As Rex sang the final verses of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the building experience a power failure. Incredibly, the crowd joined Rex in singing the final verse. The power returned. Rex looked out over the audience and exclaimed, “Awesome!”

I’m a veteran of hundreds of concerts in my time and I have never witnessed such synergy between the performers and the audience. Hearing the timeless treasures that S & G bestowed upon our generation meticulously performed by a duo that has rocked regional audiences for nearly 40 years had a tremendous emotional impact.

We will be returning to Infinity for Pure Prairie League in September and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in October, but the venue books a wide variety of musical genres well beyond my folk rock/bluegrass tastes.

August brings Livingston Taylor, John Lee Hooker Jr., Roomful of Blues, Al Stewart and Suzy Bogguss. Herman’s Hermits, Tom Rush and Loudon Wainwright III are among the September acts. October features Johnny Winter, Ray Parker Jr. and Allman Brothers guitarist extraordinaire Dickey Betts.

Check the schedule yourself (http://www.infinityhall.com/) because there are many others, some famous and some more local, with tickets priced accordingly. If you go once, I assure you that you’ll be back.

Monday, July 13, 2009

MY VIEW ON A FEW ITEMS

I was greatly disturbed by the news that Tebucky Jones Jr. was arrested for his part in a school fight.

'Twas a time when two boys could mix it up a bit over a heated exchange over a girl or some nasty comments and it didn't make headline news. Now I don't know exactly what happened but I'll share waht I do know.

Tebucky Jones Jr. is a great kid. He worked hard at his sports and his grades while at Farmington High as a freshman and the portion of his sophomore year he spent there. I heard that from several FHS people when he decided to transfer. They wanted what was best for him. He's always been respectful and mild-mannered, especially in the face of the contact he's absorbed on both the football field and basketball court.

Something about this is rotten. He was disciplined by the school when it happened in early May, which is a chance you take when you fight in school. Seems to me it should have ended there. Now, he's arrested two months later?

Is it possible that somebody figures they can tap into the money that Tebucky Sr. earned during his time in the NFL? I don't know this for a fact, but if it's true, it's very sad that Tebucky Jr. has to suffer for it. He's just a kid who got in a school fight. How many of us have done that?

From what I hear, the video that some other kid shot while the spat was going on shows Tebucky Jr. getting the other kid in a headlock. Boy it's a good thing I didn't get busted every time I got a kid in a headlock. I'd probably have been on death row at 15.

I'm sure this affair will not affect Tebucky's participation in sports next fall and/or winter, and by all means, it shouldn't. I hope and pray this doesn't scar him in any way. He doesn't deserve to be singled out. ...

Many Rock Cats regulars have concern about the condition of the field, particularly with the Bob Dylan concert coming up Wednesday. Some of the areas subject to high traffic where new sod had to be installed after the field was re-sod a few years back didn't take and it is now an eyesore.

The beauty of New Britain Stadium at its best is one of the reasons why people come. There is something soothing about a neatly groomed baseball field with the expansive sea of green grass offset by the red clay used for the infield and pitcher's mound.

The hope here is, with so many people packing the Emerald this season, that the concert doesn't add to the problems and that the powers-that-be see fit to dress it up for the rest of July, August and into early September. New Britain Stadium and Willow Brook Park are showcases for our city. We want to be proud of what the thousands of fans see. ...

The days are surely numbered for Eastern League baseball in Norwich. The Eastern League has promised the city of Richmond, Va., that one of the 12 EL franchises would be moved there for 2010. The Connecticut Defenders are the overwhelming choice, although there is still a small chance that the Erie Seawolves would make the move.

I wonder what will happen with Dodd Stadium if the EL departs. Will they bring a New York-Penn (short season Class A) team in there? Rumor has it the team playing in Burlington, Vt., will leave its quaint but antiquated home at the University of Vermont for greener pastures. After all, the school has dropped its baseball program so I'm sure there are no plans to modernize old Centennial Field.

Let's hope the NY-P League comes in rather than independent ball, which seems to be limping toward its demise in Bridgeport and just doesn't have the same pizzazz that the affiliated minor leagues have.

PLEASANT, NO MATTER WHAT THE SCORE

The sun was shining brightly Monday, a rarity in a year that threatens to come and go without a summer. The cumulus clouds, although trimmed with a little gray, puffed up from one horizon to the other.

My cell phone rings and it's Gorman Heimueller, one of my best friends who I hadn't spoken with an awhile. I met Gorman in 1981 when he pitched for the West Haven A's in the Eastern League. He had the proverbial "cup of coffee" with the Oakland A's in 1983.

We re-connected when he became pitching coach for the New Britain Rock Cats in 1995, a position he held through 1997. He was with the Reading Phillies when they were in New Britain, preparing to take on the Rock Cats in the 2001 EL championship series. The date was September 11. Need I say more?

Well, Gorm is the minor league pitching coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies now and has enjoyed his time there. He and his terrific family had a great time dancing the night away in the City of Brotherly Love late last fall when the Phils disposed of Tampa Bay in the World Series.

Anyway, it was great to hear from an old friend. We talked about the high times we've had, we talked about the sad times, we philosophized about what we've learned concerning the human condition and where we're headed.

By now, I was in the parking lot at New Britain Stadium for the 12:05 p.m. game. Any tie I talk to one of my best friends, I become energized, because there's little in life more valuable to me than the dear friends with whom I share it. You tend to realize how fortunate you are to be able to enjoy the sport you love best in a tremendous atmosphere and just 15 minutes from home.

Win or lose, Rock Cats baseball continues to be one of my guiding lights after 12-plus years covering the team.

The game itself, however, tested my optimism as much as any game can. The Binghamton Mets, cellar-dwellers in the Eastern League's Northern Division, chose this idyllic moment to erupt for six runs in the first innings and five in the second. The final seven innings had little redeeming qualities for anyone except players trying to improve their statistics.

But in spite of viewing lopsided baseball, the sun gleamed and the camaraderie couldn't be better. It got even better than usual when longtime Connecticut scribe and esteemed Chester bon vivant Peter Zanardi came up to spin a few tales. You had Joe D'Ambrosio and Jeff Dooley describing the action (or lack of it) over the air waves. Scott Gray was in the house.

It was a wonderful day, or as wonderful as they get when the hometowners are losing 14-0.