On the Stereo: Daniel (A.I.U) Higgs Interdimensional Song-Seamstress, 'Ancestral Songs'

Posted by on Jul 2, 2010

Hi J.,

Listening, for the third time, to the Daniel Higgs album you loaned me. You asked in some earnest for my opinion of it, which baffled me within hearing the first two minutes of the record. Surely you know me well enough to know I’d think it was a pile of garbage. This only made me listen harder, though—if you planned this twisted psychology on me, then I stand oblivious—to find out why. As in, why would he ask my assessment of this, this quasi-mystical Cat Stevens-wannabe pre-“freak” folk forced-Eastern-scale-laden rumination on God?

I have a problem with Christ references particularly when they’re used to turn religion on its ear somehow; by bespeaking the language of fools, does not one lend credence to it? So when Higgs rambles about the Devil and Christ and the kingdom of life blah blah blah, I shut down. There’s no desire to examine his message if the language is all wrong, and boy, does his message require examining, and boy, is his language wrong. The only explanation is that his mind has been battered by a strict religious upbringing, an intense drug experience, a newfound misguided spirituality or all three.

That said—I turned the album over and Side B has some interesting freeform experiments, but they didn’t move me anywhere other than into the realm of jealousy. Would that I were the singer for a cult Dischord band who could noodle on a superfuzzed guitar for seven minutes, press it on thick vinyl and wrap it in junior-high artwork with a deluxe gatefold, and have it sell. Mostly the thing strikes me as unaware of itself. That’s a solid backbone for a lot of art, but in this instance it’s not in a good way.

No Hard Feelings,

Live Review: Pavement with Gary Young at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA

Posted by on Jun 26, 2010 6 Comments

Even though he didn’t play until the very end of the set at the Greek Theatre last night, Pavement’s notorious ex-drummer Gary Young made his surprise presence known early. Wandering around the wings in a gray-haired ponytail, cutoffs, mismatched socks, a soccer jersey and a red-and-blue women’s blouse, Young at one point lumbered up to frontman Stephen Malkmus, in the middle of the stage, and handed him a giant bottle of Scope mouthwash.

Malkmus scrambled for an explanation. “Uh…” he said, “…this is our product placement?”

The entire show was ridiculously perfect, probably the best Pavement has ever played in the Bay Area. Famously spotty as a live band in their day, on this reunion tour Pavement has honed their trademark of playing on the edge of falling apart. Better yet, the set list comprised greatest hits—“Stereo,” “Shady Lane,” opener “Cut Your Hair”—alongside lesser-knowns like “We Dance,” “Date w/Ikea” and a downright spine-tingling “Stop Breathin’.”

As for Malkmus himself, the rakish surrealist was sight to behold, owning his past by playing his guitars in the weirdest diagonal ways and nailing the spirit of songs that the not-quite-sold-out crowd sung along to, loudly: “Range Life,” “Gold Soundz,” “The Hexx.”

But then came Gary Young’s turn on the drumset, which as anyone could guess changed everything completely.

Trigger Cut” was the first to endure Young’s sporadic drumming. Then “Box Elder.” Young, who had only been announced for the previous night’s show in Stockton but decided to show up tonight as well, plays the drums, uh, “uniquely.” There’s videos. It’s kind of like if Gary Busey drank a bottle of NyQuil and was handed drumsticks.

For “Linden” and “Summer Babe,” Young threw his whole being into every cymbal crash and off-time drum fill. “Two States” nearly fell apart. Young even introduced “a new one they won’t let me play,” and started—for a few seconds, at least—the drumbeat to his solo anthem “Plantman.”

“Jesus Christ,” muttered Malkmus.

As strange as the last five songs were, to anyone who knows the Gary Young legend it was a beautiful triumph for a guy who probably won’t ever get the chance again to play in front of thousands of people—some even leading a chant of “Ga-ry! Ga-ry! Ga-ry!”

The set ended with “Here,” Young smashing out bizarre fills in the otherwise calm chorus and covering his face with both hands while still keeping a kind-of beat. Spiral Stairs jumped into the drum set, Malkmus ironically played the melody of “Those Were The Days” on his guitar and the show was over.

Except it wasn’t. Check the video below; after hopping off the stage into the photo pit, Young walks into the crowd and mingles with fans while trying to find his way to the exit. At one point, he asks a fan, “D’you think that I drum better than the other guy?”—and wonders out loud why the rest of the band doesn’t want to stay at his house.

Ga-ry! Ga-ry! Ga-ry!


Cut Your Hair
Gold Soundz
Zurich Is Stained
Rattled by the Rush
Silence Kit
Kennel District
Range Life
Shady Lane
Date w/ Ikea
Spit on a Stranger
The Hexx
We Dance
Elevate Me Later
In the Mouth a Desert
Starlings of the Slipstream
Stop Breathin’
Trigger Cut
Box Elder

Two States
Summer Babe

In News

The Ultimate 20th-Century Mixtape

Posted by on Jun 23, 2010

There’s something wonderfully classicist about this list of recordings to be inducted today for posterity into the Library of Congress—a routine harvest of select songs and albums, from the millions out there, chosen for their “cultural significance.” I mean, Tupac, Patti Smith and Willie Nelson alongside Morton Subotnick, King Creole and “When You Wish Upon a Star”? Bill Evans’ Complete Village Vanguard Recordings seals the deal—I feel like I’m flipping through the LoC’s record collection, going daaammnn. This is, like, the ultimate 20th-century mixtape.

Tupac’s getting the most attention here, whether from commenters who still think hip-hop is the ruin of society or East Coasters eager to revive the Biggie war. But if Tupac’s inclusion inspires even a couple hundred people to listen to “Dear Mama” for the first time, the world is already a better, more empathetic place.

Here’s Brett Zongker’s AP article explaining the selection process, and below is the complete, near-impeccable list.

• “Fon der Choope” (From the Wedding), Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra (1913)

• “Canal Street Blues,” King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (1923)

Tristan und Isolde, Metropolitan Opera, featuring Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior (NBC Broadcast of March 9, 1935)

• “When You Wish Upon a Star,” Cliff Edwards (recorded, 1938; released, 1940)

• “America’s Town Meeting of the Air: Should Our Ships Convoy Materials to England?”(May 8, 1941)

• The Library of Congress Marine Corps Combat Field Recording Collection, Second Battle of Guam (July 20 – August 11, 1944)

• “Evangeline Special” and “Love Bridge Waltz,” Iry LeJeune (1948)

• “The Little Engine That Could,” narrated by Paul Wing (1949)

• Leon Metcalf Collection of recordings of the First People of Western Washington State (1950-1954)

• “Tutti Frutti,” Little Richard (1955)

• “Smokestack Lightning,” Howlin’ Wolf (1956)

Gypsy, original cast recording (1959)

The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, Bill Evans Trio (June 25, 1961)

• “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two),” Max Mathews (1961)

I Started Out As a Child, Bill Cosby (1964)

Azucar Pa Ti, Eddie Palmieri (1965)

Today!, Mississippi John Hurt (1966)

Silver Apples of the Moon, Morton Subotnick (1967)

Soul Folk in Action, The Staple Singers (1968)

The Band, The Band (1969)

Coal Miner’s Daughter, Loretta Lynn (1970)

Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson (1975)

Horses, Patti Smith (1975)

• “Radio Free Europe,” R.E.M. (1981)

• “Dear Mama,” Tupac Shakur (1995)

In News

Never The Same Band

Posted by on Jun 19, 2010 One Comment

Tonight in Sebastopol, long-running noise-jam-garage-jazz ensemble Instagon plays. I hesitate to call it an “ensemble,” actually, since in the 538 shows that band has played, there have been 543 different members. One of Instagon’s primary tenets is that no show is to be played by the same group of people. This makes for truly improvised music, with no past history linking the musicians. The one constant is a familiar presence on the Northern California noise scene; he goes by the name of LOB.

If you’ve never seen Moira Scar, one of the openers, you’re in for a surprise. Prizehog, who all worked at the Haven Cafe in Santa Rosa until uprooting to San Francisco and all working at Amoeba, are fucking unbelievable, and Cerebral Roil kicks things off.

Also on the bill and organizing the thing is Cory Thrall and his band TROI. I played with Cory and Darph/Nader teammate Jared Butler a few years ago in a warehouse for a Bohemian article; it was unforgettable. For one of the area’s biggest champions of noise, Thrall maintains a low profile—but then again, noise itself has a pretty low profile. The show tonight is at a community square-dance hall built on the old city dump site on the outskirts of town, for example.

Instagon, Prizehog, Moira Scar, TROI and Cerebral Roil play tonight, June 19, at Wischemann Hall, 460 Eddie Ln., Sebastopol. 6pm. $5. Bring earplugs, if you’re one of those kinds of people.

In News

Russian River Chamber Music Faces Uncertain Future

Posted by on Jun 16, 2010

Bad News from the Bad Economy Files: Russian River Chamber Music, which for 18 years has done an excellent job of presenting mostly free classical music concerts, is being forced to consider either canceling their upcoming 2010-2011 season or “significantly curtailing” their activities.

“I’ve got these artist contracts on my desk right now,” RRCM artistic director Gary McLaughlin said this morning, “but I’m unsure if I can sign them.”

I know times are tough for everybody, and every classical-music organization knows what McLaughlin is talking about. And yet when I first heard about Russian River Chamber Music by stumbling into a concert at the Raven Theater by Ethel, I knew they were a special case—all of their concerts were absolutely free to the public.

“It counters that old elitist image of chamber music,” McLaughlin told me for a Bohemian article in 2008 of their free admission policy. “It makes it so it’s not just for wealthy people or snooty people. With the economy going the way it is, it becomes even more attractive. We have wine and food receptions after every concert, and the artists come, and people can actually talk to the artists—and that’s all free, too! So, it’s a cheap date. No tickets, free wine. What’s not to like?”

I agree. Last year, the group experimented with charging admission, but found that ticket sales were “definitely in the ballpark” of the previous season’s donations. That’s a good sign there’s plenty of voluntary support for free chamber concerts from world-class traveling quartets visiting Sonoma County. In fact, McLaughlin says the five-member board is seriously considering making concerts free again, with the benefit of exposure to larger audiences who might not otherwise hear chamber music.

But some key backers have curtailed their financial support, and the future is uncertain.

“Everyone’s making very painful cuts, and for the next year or two, I don’t think things are going to change a lot,” McLaughlin says. “How do you weather this and stay in the game? Or do you just close your doors and call it quits? I’m not ready to do that. I didn’t put 18 years of my life into it just to see it do that.”

It’d be especially sad, since the upcoming season would focus on music and literature. Scheduled programs include a song cycle by three Bay Area composers based on the poetry of Gary Snyder, as well as the Cypress String Quartet’s performance of an author-approved composition based on Anne Patchett’s bestseller Bel Canto. As ever, the string quartets would visit area schools for free educational programs for kids—last year, the visiting groups from Shanghai, Paris and Tel Aviv all played to packed schoolrooms.

How can you help make it work? Right now,  Russian River Chamber Music could use any support, whether in the form of financial donations or in the form of energetic souls who can offer fresh ideas and help “save the ship,” as McLaughlin says. You can email him here, or call 707.524.8700.

Believe me, it’s a ship worth saving.

Live Review and Photos: Lauryn Hill at the Harmony Festival, Santa Rosa, CA

Posted by on Jun 14, 2010 8 Comments

The long-hoped-for resurrection of Lauryn Hill, a dream seeming to slip further away with each year and each incoherent concert, took a giant step closer to fulfillment tonight at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa.

We may never know what exactly has plagued Hill these last eight years, forcing her to shirk the limelight, cancel tours and sabotage her reputation, just as we may never know how she became capable of triumphantly returning to the stage in 2010. One thing is evident: in Santa Rosa, of all places, the 35-year-old singer finally showed she craves dearly to be taken seriously again. Reinvigorated with enthusiasm, she inhabited the music, conducted the band, belted improvised shout-outs and thanked the crowd—all in the first song. “I love you,” she exclaimed to a field of fans. “It’s so good to see you.”

If it weren’t for the harlequin outfit, bulky hoop earrings and heavy metal guitar solos, it was almost like seeing the Lauryn Hill of old.

Outwardly struggling with fame, Hill has long evinced a complete dread of pleasing the public (see: Unplugged 2.0), but in a 75-minute set of Fugees classics and Miseducation tracks in Santa Rosa, she refreshingly aimed to do just that. From breakneck set opener “Lost Ones” to the slam-dunk closer “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill showed a genuine desire to again fulfill her talent.

It started rough. Scheduled to go on at 6pm, Ms. Lauryn Hill, as she requires to be billed, came onstage only after her DJ bored the crowd with a half hour of clunky, unblended snippets from the likes of “Purple Haze,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Pass the Dutchie” and “Bam Bam.” The presence of two large teleprompters at the foot of the stage, for lyrics, added to the slowly mounting despair. By 6:29, when instructed to make noise for the umpteenth time, the teeming crowd could only wonder if Hill would arrive at all.

But grandly arrive she did, in an ’80s multicolored full-body jumpsuit that was only moderately silly in light of the get-ups donned by the average Harmony Festival attendee. “Lost Ones” set things straight in a ten-minute version that twisted through five different arrangements, and Hill’s recently-faded voice showed rejuvenated form with “When It Hurts So Bad.” By the beautiful “Turn Your Your Lights Down Low,” the crowd was in the palm of Hill’s hands, and comeback was in the air.

“We gonna do some old stuff,” Hill proclaimed, “but, but, but, but… there is a ‘but’… we gonna do some old stuff kinda new. Is that okay with you?” A medley of Fugees tracks followed, with Hill even taking over some Wyclef and Pras verses and singing OG sample material (“I Only Have Eyes For You”). And despite a generation’s collective memorization of the album versions, reworked songs with reggae and hard rock elements electrified Hill, who nailed every segue and spat out lightning-fast lines quicker than the crowd could sing along.

There were, sadly, two immediate drawbacks. One, Hill clearly has no concept at all of how live sound operates. Both between and in the middle of songs, she constantly complained about the stage and house mix, chiding the soundman to keep turning up every instrument and microphone according to her fleeting whims. The result was a washed-out din.

The other problem was that Hill is perhaps now too eager for public approval. From the ultra-fast tempos which, even with the teleprompters, she at times struggled to keep up with; to the claustrophobic arrangements for two guitars, two basses, two keyboards and three backup singers; to the “whooooo!”s and the “yeeaahhh!”s and the hasty leg-kicking, the concert had the effervescent taint of a Vegas show.

Realizing that Hill is simply giving people what they want—in preparation for her Rock the Bells dates, no doubt—is a blessing and a curse. She admirably tried for a time to break from fame’s mold, but it only resulted in bad music and psychological deterioration. With this greatest-hits set out on the road, her old fans are certainly satisfied, but what about staying true to one’s muse?

The question was forgotten each time Hill eagerly jumped into each song. “Pop this one, c’mon, let’s go!” she told her band, and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” set an entire field of festival goers aflame. “Thank you so much,” she said, as a sea of arms applauded wildly. “Thank you for your patience with us. Good to see you. Hope to see you soon.”

Lauryn Hill hasn’t made fans’ patience an easy task these last eight years, but let’s hope we see her in this kind of form again soon. Her emancipation might still not fit some people’s equation—I’ve already heard from people who were disappointed with the show—but the trainwreck curse is over and the resurrection is afoot. Now the fine-tuning begins.

Set List:

Lost Ones
When It Hurts So Bad
Turn Your Lights Down Low
How Many Mics / I Can’t Stand Losing You
I Only Have Eyes For You / Zealots
Ready or Not
Doo Wop (That Thing)

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Live Review: Ravi Coltrane, Geri Allen and Charlie Haden at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival

Posted by on Jun 13, 2010 One Comment

The piece began slowly. “Something acknowledging Hank Jones,” Geri Allen had announced. Her fingers fluttered over the piano keys, evocative of Jones’ intro to “Love for Sale,” a tribute that even in its sparest moments echoed throughout the sold-out Raven Theater.

The music took a slight turn to Allen’s “Swamini,” written in remembrance of Alice Coltrane, whereupon Ravi Coltrane made his entrance from the wings. Off-mic, he eased his sax into a sobering moan, then gradually unfolded his tone to fill one of the many open spaces in an inspired, unaccompanied cadenza.

Into the stage lights then walked Charlie Haden, a frequent Hank Jones collaborator, steering the suite to his “For Turiya,” an elegy first recorded as a duet with Alice Coltrane 35 years ago. All together, the trio comprised a suite of angular nuance, and after 14 minutes, in the moment between the final note and the audience’s applause, the history of these three musicians with those who’ve left this world hung in the air.

All three have played in far feistier settings (famously, Allen and Haden with Ornette Coleman, acknowledged in the set by “Lonely Woman”), but perhaps time and loss have tempered the pace. The ballad standard “What’ll I Do” was caressed softly by Coltrane, but for most of the material he seemed to be pulling along Haden’s languorous playing, which relied substantially on open strings, into more upbeat territory. Alas, it never followed.

The concert hadn’t started so somberly—in fact, the crowd had spontaneously sung “Happy Birthday” to Allen—but the drumless trio carried on in slow tempos and ruminative passages throughout the remainder of the set. This was nuanced music for closing one’s eyes and listening, a sublime jazz suited to the hot wine country evening.

I overheard someone remark that the show was “very Healdsburg,” by which they meant unchallenging and smooth, but the tag doesn’t fit. Meanwhile over in the Healdsburg Hotel lobby, Craig Handy played his guts out with George Cables to a packed, whooping crowd. The next day, the unstoppable Dafnis Prieto played drums like a car on five tanks of gas before Jason Moran and Bill Frisell dissected the very concept of music with otherworldly improvisations. Earlier at the Raven, the Healdsburg High School jazz band had torn through gutsy versions of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here” and Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”

Oh, and about that podunk little high school jazz band you thought you could show up late to miss? Count me among the many minds blown by the miraculous Kai Devitt-Lee, staring out over the crowd while unfolding incredible solos and inventive, angular backing on guitar. “This guy’s gotta be a guest artist,” I thought, but nope–he’s 16 years old and a marvel to behold. Get used to the name, folks.

In News

Jazz Standards and Style Commanders

Posted by on Jun 12, 2010

I talked with jazz pianist Jason Moran a couple weeks ago for a feature on the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, and I gotta say, the guy’s really smart and down-to-earth—and a hell of a piano player. His soon-to-be-released album Ten is easily the best, most natural-sounding album he’s made, and he plays Sunday afternoon at Rodney Strong Vineyards with Bill Frisell. I urge you to check it out. How many jazz pianists can you name who are planning to record a duets album with Ghostface, MF Doom and Jay Electronica?

For those who missed out on Esperanza Spalding’s sold-out show last night at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, or who can’t make it to the Charlie Haden / Ravi Coltrane show tonight, be advised that Craig Handy is playing for free in the Hotel Healdsburg lobby tonight from 9-midnight with “special guests.” I’ve seen Craig Handy both chewed out by Sue Mingus for showing up late to a Mingus Big Band show and suffering behind an irascible Freddie Hubbard, so be nice to the guy, okay?

It’s not free, but this year’s Festival del Sole features a performance at Daryl Sattui’s crazy $30 million, 121,000–sq.-ft. Castello di Amorosa by 16-year-old Canadian singing sensation Nikki Yanofsky. You might have heard of Yanofsky through her involvement with the nutsy-cuckoo “We Are The World”-like re-recording of K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” to benefit Haiti, or for singing a laid-back version of the Canadian national anthem for the 2010 Olympics. But you should really just go to her MySpace page, ignore the goofy press photos that look like Blossom, and listen to her insane scat-scattered version of “I Got Rhythm.” Damn!

The Wells Fargo Center has announced their upcoming season, including the return of both Wynton Marsalis and Tony Bennett. Marsalis is playing with the full Lincoln Center Orchestra, and you’ve got time to plan your evening—the show’s next February, in 2011! Bennett slips in a little sooner, on September 21, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: at 83, the guy hasn’t lost an iota of his voice, talent, or showbiz class. I met him briefly at the then-Luther Burbank Center after a show about ten years ago; he was flanked by Mafia-looking bodyguards and incredibly kind to me, a then-young, googley-eyed fan. Go see him if, and while, you can.

It's Harmony Festival Time

Posted by on Jun 11, 2010

Bare midriffs, sandals and burning sage galore! I stopped by the Harmony Festival tonight just in time to see a guy recite a song about hacky sacks, a clown-nosed Wavy Gravy ramble about yippie tomfoolery from 1968, and Dweezil Zappa lead his band in “Peaches En Regalia” while girls in fishnets and angel wings twirled near the pulsing lights. Later, over in the Grace Pavilion, the Jazz Mafia took the stage with ‘Brass, Bows & Beats,’ which you can read about in this week’s Bohemian column. “I wanna say thanks to the Harmony Festival,” said Adam Theis before the opening notes of his hip-hop symphony, “for taking a chance on something different.”

Theis is an avid skateboarder who always takes his board on tour; “if you don’t,” he told me, “you end up pulling up to the venue and there’s a skatepark next door.” That was the case tonight, since Jon Lohne and the rest of the Brotherhood Board Shop crew have assembled a mini-ramp and street course behind the Grace Pavilion. There’s even a VW bug car jump! But the real treat, at least to anyone who skates, is the fact that John Cardiel is DJing. No shit.

The beginning of the great Vice documentary Epicly Later’d: John Cardiel shows Cardiel in his room, flipping through Barrington Levy 45s and talking about how everyone expects him to like heavy music, like Slayer, to match his intense skating style. “I mean, I love Slayer, I love hard music,” he says, “but really, where my heart’s at, if you want to talk about some shit, let’s talk about some reggae.”

Tonight, Cardiel spun reggae and hip-hop records on a small stage next to the mini-ramp while festivalgoers in all manner of ridiculous costume walked by. Here’s one of the most influential and inspiring skaters in recent history, whose career was cut tragically short when he was accidentally run over by a trailer in Australia, DJing in Santa Rosa! Earlier in the day, fellow skate legend Ray Barbee played a 45 minute jam on the same stage, wailing on a Gibson guitar. Omar Hassan’s there tomorrow, and hell, even Tommy Guerrero is gonna be skating there on Sunday, so who knows what kind of musical mayhem will go down?

Click here for a full .pdf schedule of the skate area events.

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1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre Now The Worst Venue Name In America

Posted by on Jun 10, 2010 8 Comments

No, it’s not a joke. The Ford Amphiteatre in Tampa, Fla. has actually, truly been renamed The 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre. Good Lord.

As reported by Kim Wilmath and Sarah Hutchins at the St. Petersburg Times, the new name comes from the lowest pits of hell a three-year, $1.1 million deal between the Live Nation venue and a local injury lawyer referral hotline owned by Gary Kompothecras.

The reporters managed to find one person in Florida who was excited about what’s clearly the stupidest venue name in America. That’d be a “close friend” of Kompothecras who goes by Bubba The Love Sponge Clem, and man, when I look for advice on names, he’s the guy I consult.

The rest of the folks, including the venue manager himself, could only offer somber reminders about the economy and the venue’s financial straits, which is what every single venue says while forcing the music-loving fans of their community to utter words of complete shame when talking about going to concerts.

Let’s repeat it, just for effect. It’s called the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater. Say it out loud. I dare you. We out here in the Bay Area have had to live with AT&T Park, the Oracle Arena, the HP Pavilion, Network Associates Coliseum and plenty of other horrendous corporate names, but this is without a doubt the worst venue name in history.

To the people of Tampa, I send my deepest condolences. Really. I’m truly sorry for you. And your children. You don’t deserve this. The rest of the nation is laughing at you, and it’s not your fault.

So I have some advice.

Do like we do in California when this type of insulting malice is foisted upon the public and simply refuse to acknowledge it. Call the place The Amp. “Whatcha doin’ Friday night?” “Oh, going down to the Amp to see Rihanna.”

And if that doesn’t quell the resentment? I can’t officially recommend breaking laws of any kind, although I will point out that spray paint is cheap and venue signage is accessible. Do with this information what you will, Floridians.