July 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Forget June, too! The Nationals' slump continues
Hopes that the Washington Nationals might recover from their early season failures ("Forget April!") and live up to their potential slowly faded during June and were pretty much dashed by the end of the month. Every time a flicker of hope surfaces, they resume a grim spiral downward into mediocrity. With the midpoint of the season already past, the Nats' chances of snapping out of it and winning the NL East are probably less than one in ten right now. With solid rosters full of eager, fresh talent, the Phillies and Braves will fight it out until October, most likely.
Ironically, the June swoon came just when some of their big slugging stars from last year finally returned to the lineup. Anthony Rendon is finally starting to display All-Star quality slugging and fielding, but not in time to get selected for this year's All Star game. Daniel Murphy took a long time to regain his former hitting form, while Trea Turner has had big ups and downs. On the other hand, Ryan Zimmerman -- "face of the franchise" -- is still on the DL, and there is some confusion over whether it's just an oblique strain or if he also injured his calf muscle.
So what went wrong? First and foremost, the Nats' vaunted pitching rotation fell apart. The team's ace, Max Scherzer, only won one game in June (on the fifth, against Tampa Bay), and was charged with three losses even though he only gave up a total of five runs. How many runs did the Nats score in those three games? ZERO!!! The fact that he has remained a ferocious competitor in spite of the lack of run support from his team mates is a testament to his sportsmanship. Among other starting pitchers, Gio Gonzalez has reverted to his often-inconsistent ways, getting flustered by adversity. The once-solid Tanner Roark is having his worst year since joining the Nats in 2013, losing tonight against the Mets to bring his record down to 3-12. (He probably still harbors a grudge that he didn't get a chance to pitch at all in last year's NLDS.) Steven Strasburg has been on the disabled list for over a month now, while Jeremy Hellickson just came from the DL and did well on Tuesday, helping to beat the Pirates. After a stellar first two months, the Nats' pitching rotation is in shambles.
But we can't just blame the pitchers. At the plate this year, the Nats are incredibly inconsistent, racking up double-digit scores one day and then getting shut out a few days later. In fact, the Nats have been shut out ten times this year already, three more than in all of 2017. Tonight's game against the Mets (a 4-2 loss) was a perfect example of how the Nats keep wasting golden opportunities: they were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Whether it's lack of leadership under the new manager (Dave Martinez) or some hard-to-fathom angst undermining team spirit, the poor results are painfully obvious.
Nats edge Orioles
Given that the Baltimore Orioles are having one of their worst seasons in team history (currently with a 28-69 record), the Nats really should have swept them in Washington from June 19-21. But perhaps because of a lengthy rain delay (almost three hours) on June 20, the Nats just couldn't find their rhythm, and the O's shut them out, 3-0. So, the Nats settled for winning two out of three. That gave the Nats a 5-1 win-loss record over the Orioles this year, better than they usually seem to do against their neighbors to the north.
Phillies torment the Nats
The Philadelphia Phillies then came to town, as the Nats were clinging to second place in the NL East. Tanner Roark had another lousy outing, and the Phillies grabbed second place in dramatic fashion, spanking the Nats 12-2. They widened their lead the next evening, and on Sunday the 24th had a lead going into the late innings. But this time Rendon, Harper, and Murphy rose to the occasion, winning 8-6 and narrowly avoiding what would have been a humiliating sweep at home.
Did that big win turn things around for the Nats? Nope. Over the next two days in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Nats failed to score a single run against the third place Rays, and only got five total hits. Gio Gonzalez gave up six runs in one-plus innings (final score 11-0) and then Max Scherzer got tagged for the loss in a 1-0 game. Just disgusting.
So it wasn't much surprise that the Nats would have a rough go in the subsequent four-game series in Philadelphia. But they actually did OK, scoring a total of 25 runs to the Phillies' 18. The problem was that most of the Nationals' runs were in the second game (Friday the 29th), when they won 17-7. Rookie Juan Soto homered twice, and five other Nats hit four-baggers as well. It was a huge triumph that raised hopes of finally getting the team back on track -- except that in the other three games the Nats lost by one-run margins. Argh-h-h-h-h!
Red Sox sweep Nats
The Nats began their most recent home stand with three games against the Boston Red Sox, and even with three home runs to support him, Max Scherzer couldn't get the win. Boston 4, Washington 3. The next day starting pitcher Tanner Roark had another meltdown, giving up nine runs in an 11-4 loss. Then the Red Sox spoiled the 4th of July festivities in Washington, in a 3-0 loss in which starting pitcher Erick Fedde (Who??) only lasted one inning. Reliever Mark Grace kept things under control for the next four innings, but there was no offense to entertain the jam-packed Nationals Park on that special day.
NOTE: Two years ago I presented a table summarizing all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005. Their cumulative July 4 record was then 7-4, and now it's 8-5.
Nats wallop the Marlins
With that misery behind them, the Nats welcomed the Miami Marlins to town on July 5. This time Jeremy Hellickson had, shall we say, a rather more difficult time on the mound. He gave up seven runs in the first two innings (one unearned), and two more in the fourth inning. Down 9-0, there wasn't much for the Nats to hope for. But in the bottom of the fourth, Trea Turner hit a solo homer, and that small spark lit a firestorm of runs. Over the next three innings, the Nats scored 13 more runs, capped by a grand slam by Trea Turner that gave his team a 10-9 lead in the sixth inning. Believe it or not!!! But then the Marlins closed the gap with three runs in the eighth inning, and only the cool head of closing pitcher Sean Doolittle kept the Nats' 14-12 lead intact through the end of the game. It was the Nats' biggest comeback win every, surpassing the equally improbable 13-12 win (after a 9-1 deficit) in late April 2015.
That set the stage for a rare (for this year) event: the Nationals won the next game, the first consecutive wins by the team since June 5 and 6. The 3-2 victory on July 6 was largely due to the Nats' valuable utility player Mark Reynolds, who hit a walk-off home run -- the first one by a Nats player this year, in fact. The next day (Saturday) featured another offensive explosion by the Nats, as they won, 18-4. Mark Reynolds was the star once again, hitting two more home runs, and racking up 10 runs batted in, tying the franchise record in that departement which Anthony Rendon had set last year (April 2017). It also got Max Scherzer his 12th win of the year. But the next day the Marlins bounced back with a 10-2 win, thus ending the Nats' winning streak at a modest three.
Nats fall in Pittsburgh
On July 9 in Pittsburgh, a rookie named Jefry Rodriguez was pitching for the Nats, another sign of how badly depleted their pitching staff is. He gave up six runs over five innings, while the Nats only managed three. On Tuesday, a homer by Anthony Rendon and four hits by Daniel Murphy powered the Nats to a 5-1 win. On Wednesday afternoon, Gio Gonzalez had one of his best outings of the year, giving up just two runs over six innings. It could have been worse, but he kept his cool and got out of multiple jams. What's more, he hit a leadoff double, but the next three batters were out to end the inning -- another horrendous example of how the Nats keep screwing up this year. Pirates 2, Nats 0.
Nats acquire Herrera
While the Nationals were playing against the Baltimore Orioles last month, a new relief pitcher appeared for the first time: Kelvin Herrera, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for three minor league prospects. Like last year, the Nationals are in desperate need of better relievers. In 27 games for Kansas City this year, Herrera had a 1.05 ERA with 14 saves and 22 strikeouts and two walks allowed. (MLB.com) But what the Nats really need is another starting pitcher and perhaps a catcher who can hit the ball with some regularity. Neither Matt Wieters nor Pedro Severino have done much for the Nats this year, and third-string catcher Spencer Kieboom is still too young to be an everyday player. (I suppose one could say the same thing about the young Juan Soto, but that's another story!)
Jayson Werth retires
You have to admire Jayson Werth's determination to stay in the game even after his contract with the Nationals expired last year. He was playing minor league ball in the Seattle Mariners' organization, but there just wasn't any room for him, and he decided to retire. He visited Nationals Park earlier this month, and the Nationals announced there will be a special Jayson Werth Day in September. As I have said before, he deserves enormous credit for helping transform the Nationals from an also-ran team into perennial championship contenders.
First half 2018: Numbers don't lie
Read 'em and weep: I updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of the year. At the end of June (coincidentally the exact midpoint in terms of number of games), the Nats' record was 42-39, and now it's back to an even .500: 47-47.
Watch for falling ice!
While going through my accumulated newspaper clippings recently, I noticed a news item from three months ago that a Toronto Blue Jays game scheduled for April 16 had to be postponed one day because falling ice from the huge CN Tower next door had punctured the roof of Rogers Centre, necessitating quick repairs. One of the young Toronto stars, Yangervis Solarte, homered that day as the Blue Jays beat the Royals. That drew my attention because Solarte was the guy whose home runs decided the game outcome in the series last month (June 15-17) when the Nats were swept in Toronto.
SunTrust Park update!
Many thanks to Andrew Owen, who sent me some fine photos of the (almost) new home of the Atlanta Braves, SunTrust Park. I noticed for the first time that the back rows of the middle deck around the infield consists of double-width table seating. No doubt other details are yet to be discovered. I will update that page soon with said photos and perhaps a diagram update. Who knows, maybe I'll even get there myself later this year...
And so, of course, I had to update the SunTrust Park diagram, and as usual, it took me a lot longer than expected. There are now separate upper deck and lower deck variants, and I may add a second deck variant as well. I decided that there are four main decks, since there is significant overhang between the very top level and the level immediately below it. Among all MLB ballparks, only Miller Park has four distinct decks extending all the way around between the foul poles; Dodger Stadium has four decks around the infield only. There will probably be another update or two in the future, once I get a chance to inspect it on my own.
SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves. (Courtesy of Andrew Owen, April 2018.)
Click on that image to see it full-size.
On a side note, I noticed that Georgia State Stadium (the rebuilt version of Turner Field), has the football gridiron laid out along what used to be the third base line, rather than the first base side as I had previously surmised. See Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia State University; minor diagram update pending...
July 15, 2018 [LINK / comment]
June: a month (of birding) to remember!
June may have been forgetable in other ways (such as baseball), but in terms of birding, it was definitely a month to remember! In my never-ending quest to get caught up on documenting my various activities, here is a summary of what I did in June, in chronological order.
On June 2, I went on an Augusta Bird Club field trip around the Swoope area, as part of the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. John Spahr led the trip and us tips on how to use the eBird app to submit observations via an iPhone. There are specific codes for different kinds of breeding behavior: male singing, nests being occupied, etc. The big highlight was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest very close to the road, and before long I spotted the mother-to-be in the nest. In a nearby tree, two Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be preparing a nest. We also saw two Yellow-billed Cuckoos nearby, but I wasn't able to photograph them. It was one of the few times I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at two different locations on the same day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole (1st-yr. male), Willow Flycatcher, Bobolink, Eastern Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (F) in nest!, American Goldfinch, and in center, Eastern Bluebird. (June 2)
On June 6 (the 74th anniversary of the "D-Day" invasion of France), I led two other Augusta Bird Club members went on a hastily-improvised field trip to Highland County, taking advantage of momentary good weather. (With all the rain, we just couldn't be sure about scheduling such a trip more than a few days in advance.) We succeeded in spotting three main target species. At the Blue Grass cemetery, several Bobolinks were singing and displaying. A few miles north, close to the West Virginia state line, there was a guy with a huge camera on the side of the road, and we figured that he was trying to get a photo of a Golden-winged Warbler, since it was very close to our destination. So we stopped, and sure enough, we saw one after a few minutes. Then we proceeded to the house where Margaret O'Bryan once lived; for many years that has been a regular stop for Augusta Bird Club field trips. We saw the usual variety of warblers up there, including a Chestnut-sided Warbler, but not until we were about to leave did we finally hear and then glimpse a Golden-winged Warbler. We did see a female Yellow Warbler in her nest, very useful photographic data for VABBA. Next, we drove out to Paddy Knob, on the southwest corner of Highland County, right on the West Virginia state line. It was the first time that any of use had been there, and we were trying to follow the directions by Marshall Faintich, a prominent local bird photographer who regularly posts reports of his ventures. We lost track of distance, however, and went a few miles beyond the primary "hot spot" destination. Finally, we did see an elusive Mourning Warbler, and I managed to get a decent photo in spite of obstructing bushes. We also saw Black-throated Blue Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a Least Flycatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mourning Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Bobolink, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Least Flycatcher, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler (F) in nest!, and in center, Chestnut-sided Warbler. (June 6)
Saturday, June 9th was the Augusta Bird Club's annual spring picnic brunch, for the first time at Humpback Rocks Picnic Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was great and attendance was high. Crista Cabe and I led two separate groups on hikes along nearby trails, and a nice variety of birds were heard and seen. Among the highlights were Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Cerulean Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blue-headed Vireos. I had intended to return to that area to get better photos of Cerulean Warblers, but haven't managed to do it thus far.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cerulean Warbler, Indigo Bunting, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, and in center, Red-tailed Hawk. (June 9)
On June 16, John Spahr led five other Augusta Bird Club members on a second field trip related to the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. (See the June 2 report above.) The main destination was Braley Pond, near the village of West Augusta, but most of the time was spent along the Johnson Draft trail upstream from the pond. That trail turned out to be very rich in terms of likely breeding birds, and a number of Northern Parulas, Worm-eating Warblers, and Indigo Buntings (including a female with nesting material) were heard and/or seen. Afterwards, some of us stopped for lunch at the nearby convenience store, where a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to a feeder. Finally, we spent a while at the Chimney Hollow trail, where we saw an Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush, as well as some juvenile Eastern Phoebes.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Parula, Eastern Phoebe, Black-and-white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Indigo Bunting (F & M). (June 16)
On June 23 I went on my first solo venture as part of VABBA. It had rained in Staunton the day before, but apparently it was much heavier in the West Augusta area, as the Chimney Hollow trail was flooded for much of the way. I made it as far as the first stream crossing, but that proved to be totally impassible, so I waited for a while and then turned back. I spotted the Acadian Flycatcher but not much else. Next I went to nearby Braley Pond, where I saw an Ovenbird (male by definition) singing repeatedly near the parking area. As expected, there was a nest in the informational kiosk. At the pond there were two big surprises: a Great Egret and an Osprey.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Egret, Indigo Bunting, Acadian Flycatcher, Ovenbird, Osprey, Eastern Phoebe, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Braley Pond, June 23, 2018)
On June 30, I went on a follow-up trip to the same area for VABBA, and started off by taking a look at a trail with which I was not familiar: Dowell's Draft. The trailhead is easy to miss as you drive along the road which heads north toward Elkhorn Lake, which I had covered on Big Spring Day, May 5. If it weren't for VABBA, under which specific rectangular plots of land measuring about three miles by five miles are assigned to volunteer observers, I might not have discovered that trail at all! Dowells Draft happens to be located right next to the pipeline clearing, and I saw many signs along the way, such as "noxious weeds" and "waterbody crossing." I began at about 9:45 and intended to spend under an hour there before going to nearby Braley Pond and Chimney Hollow, but I soon realized that Dowells Draft itself was so thick with birds that it took up my whole day (well, five hours) of birding! One discovery led to another, as I explored that area for the first time. Early on, I had great views of Northern Parulas, Ovenbirds, etc. There is a side trail on the left that connects Dowells Draft to other trails farther north, but instead I continued along the fire road which roughly parallels the pipeline right of way. I was "lured" by the distant song of a Prairie Warbler, and before long I saw at least one and probably two at fairly close range. That species favors semi-open countryside, and the clearing of trees for the pipeline might actually be beneficial for them. Soon I came upon another "hot spot," where several different warbler species were very active, including probable families of Black and White Warblers and American Redstarts. Then I crossed a stream and began a long uphill climb, gaining about 600 feet in elevation. Along the way, I saw Scarlet Tanagers and heard Pine Warblers, among others. As I approached the summit of Chestnut Oak Knob, I decided to turn back since it was already 1:00 PM and I didn't have any food or water with me. (Rather foolish, I admit, but that is not how I had planned my day.) Fortunately, I found blackberries to munch on, and that kept me going. I returned to the trailhead about 3:00, tired but very satisfied with a great day of birding and adventuring.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, and in center, Indigo Bunting and Red-bellied Woodpecker. (Dowell's Draft, June 30, 2018)
Well, that takes care of that! Most of the narrative text above consists of postings I made to Facebook, edited for context and brevity. (The latter two paragraphs were written from scratch.) Many other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. A separate blog post covering birds in [July] will follow soon...
July 17, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Bryce Harper wins 2018 Home Run Derby
In the midst of a season of disappointment and frustration, last night's Home Run Derby was a much-needed moment of rejoicing in Our Nation's Capital. Hometown favorite Bryce Harper prevailed over Freddie Freeman in Round I, and then over Max Muncy in Round II, in both cases relatively stress-free. Harper had 26 seconds remaining when he hit his deciding 13th home run in Round I, and 1:11 left when he did likewise in Round II. In contrast, the final Round III against Kyle Schwarber was a showdown of titanic proportions, and things didn't look good after the halfway mark, as Harper got off to a slow start. The guy pitching to him (his father, I think) kept throwing bad pitches, throwing Harper off balance. He had easily qualified for the 30 bonus seconds by hitting two homers over 440 feet, and it seemed that he was going to need that time just to have a chance to tie Schwarber, who had hit 18 home runs. But after his second rest break, Harper finally got into the groove, and hit nine homers within the space of 50 seconds! He managed to tie Schwarber 18-18 after his regular four minutes were up, and all he needed to do was hit one homer in the bonus time. In fact, he had about 15 seconds left when he hit his 19th and final home run in Round III, achieving the triumph that Washington fans had craved for so long.
Ordinarily, I'd say that this event was a mere side-show spectacle, but under the rather somber circumstances (the likelihood of no postseason games in D.C. this year) I feel obliged to make a big deal out of it. So, for the sake of posterity, here is an unofficial "scoreboard," based on the pencil notes I was keeping during the actual event last night:
Surprisingly, the only previous time that Harper was in the Home Run Derby was 2013, when Yoenis Cespedes (then with the Oakland A's) beat him in the final round. In the final round of last year's Home Run Derby, Aaron Judge defeated Miguel Sano.
Bryce Harper hits his 31st home run of 2015, then leading the National League;
see my Aug. 25, 2015 blog post.
All Star Game 2018: preview
As usual, this year's All Star Game is full of names that I am only vaguely if at all familiar with, so I look forward to getting better acquainted with the rest of the MLB top stars. Just like last year, Max Scherzer is the starting pitcher for the National League. Play ball!
The American League has won the last five All Star Games, though last year it went into extra innings. Intriguingly, the American League has scored exactly twice as many runs as the National League in the last three years, and each year the run totals declined by two and one runs, respectively. By definition, that trend cannot possibly continue.
2018 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
|| National League
|| American League
|| Wilson Contreras
| Wilson Ramos
|| Freddie Freeman
| Jose Abreu
|| Javier Baez
| Jose Altuve
|| Nolan Arenado
| Jose Ramirez
|| Brandon Crawford
| Manny Machado
|| Bryce Harper
| Mike Trout
|| Matt Kemp
| Aaron Judge
|| Nick Markakis
| Mookie Betts
|| Paul Goldschmidt
| J.D. Martinez
|| Max Scherzer
| Chris Sale
Nationals players are in bold face; Nats closing pitcher Sean Doolittle was also selected, but he is on the disabled list.
SOURCE: Washington Post
By comparison, four (4) Nationals were in the starting lineup last year, including the two above plus Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. Both of them spent most of the first half of this year on the disabled list, essentially disqualifying them. It's worth noting that a prominent former Nat [was supposed to be] an All Star on the American League starting lineup this year: Wilson Ramos. [However, he is on the DL and will be replaced by Salvador Perez of the Royals.] (Another former Nat, relief pitcher Blake Treinen, is a reserver All Star representing the Oakland A's.) Interestingly, both catchers' first names this year [were going to be "Wilson": Wilson Contreras and Wilson Ramos.]
Would this be a good time to point out that the Nationals are in dire need of a catcher who can hit the ball on a regular basis? Is there even a slight chance that the solid but stuck-in-third-place Tampa Bay Rays could trade him to the Nationals by the August 1 trade deadline?
Adios soon to Machado
And speaking of premature trade talk, it is all but given that the Orioles will trade away Manny Machado in the very near future. It's a sad sign of how bleak the situation is in Baltimore this year, but at least there is nowhere for them to go but up. Just ask the former cellar dweller Houston Astros!
Nationals Park tweak
I thought I had posted this already, but more than a year after the fact I have tweaked the Nationals Park main diagram to include the new "MGM National Harbor Dugout Club" row of seats along the first base line. (See the photo of it in my October 11 blog post from last year.) This had the effect of reducing foul territory by about 300 square feet, from an estimated 23,100 to 22,800 square feet. As far as I can determine, it is the only significant modification to Nationals Park since it opened just over ten years ago. In the near future I will update all the Nationals Park diagram variants to be consistent.
July 18, 2018 [LINK / comment]
AL wins a classic Midsummer Classic
The 2018 All Star Game was a true classic, very close throughout and going into extra innings (one). It set a record for the number of home runs in an All Star Game, ten! After last night, Nationals Park is liable to get a reputation for being slugger-friendly. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer did fine, with four strikeouts over two innings, but he gave up a home run to Aaron Judge and was on the hook for a possible loss until Trevor Story (of the Rockies) hit a solo homer in the seventh inning to tie the game 2-2. A crucial sequence of the game came in the top of the eighth inning when Jean Segura (of the Mariners) hit a pop foul into the NL dugout and first baseman Joey Votto failed to catch it. Right after that, Segura hit a three-run homer and the AL took a 5-2 lead. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Scooter Gennett (of the Reds) hit a two-run homer to tie the game 5-5. But it the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer (both Astros) hit back-to-back solo homers, and Ross Stripling (of the Dodgers) was charged with a third earned run. Joey Votto homered in the bottom of the tenth, partly atoning for his earlier error, but it wasn't enough and the American League won the All Star Game once again, this time by a score of 8-6. Bregman was named All Star Game MVP.
Bryce Harper, champion of the Home Run Derby, struck out in both at bats. The first time he got behind in the count and then swung at a low curve ball for strike three. The second time he was called out on a pitch that may have touched the outside corner.
Attendance at the All Star Game was 43,843, exactly 145 more than had attended the Home Run Derby the night before. The highest-ever attendance at Nationals Park was 45,966 on October 12, 2012, when the Nats lost to the Cardinals 9-7 in NLDS Game 5.
Dodger Stadium to host 2020 ASG
I missed the news a couple months ago that Dodger Stadium was selected to to host the All Star Game in 2020; see MLB.com. It will be only the second such event in that stadium, which is now 56 years old! The Annual chronology page has been updated with that info, along with this year's ASG score.
I made a few more tweaks to the SunTrust Park diagrams, such as making the ends of the upper decks more accurate. The roof on both ends has some irregular angles, something of a puzzle. In addition, I made a very small tweak to the Nationals Park diagram: including the new Devil's Backbone Lodge, located under the light tower at the north end of the upper deck. While doing that, I realized that the light tower was wider than I thought, and has prominent diagonal support beams on either end.
July 19, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Triple concert: Felder / REO Speedwagon / Styx!
It may be over three months late, but here goes. Way back on Wednesday, April 4, Jacqueline and I drove to Charlottesville to see a concert featuring three separate acts: Don Felder (former lead guitarist with the Eagles), REO Speedwagon, and Styx. I had seen Felder once before, with the Eagles in 1980 or so, but I had never seen the other two groups before. I like all three of the featured performers, so for me this was a wonderful opportunity. (Jacqueline enjoyed it as well, but she wasn't quite as passionate about it.)
The last rock concert we attended was in the same venue about a year earlier: Stevie Nicks, in March 25, 2017. (Likewise, there was a big time lag between the event and the blog post.) This time we had much better seats, in the lower level. Tickets were reasonably priced (ours were in the $60 range), reflecting the modest demand for second tier classic rock groups. Most of the fans in attendance were at least our age, though there were some youngsters as well. The upper deck was curtained off because of the empty seats. I would say there about 5,000 people in attendance.
Interior panorama of John Paul Jones Arena before the show began; click on the image to see it full size.
Act I: Don Felder
Right on time at 7:00 Don Felder came onto the stage, and [he quickly] lit into "Already Gone," one of the Eagles' first big hits. His lead guitar playing made that song something really special; it was from their third album, On the Border. Felder joined the group during the recording sessions, and he had a big impact on the group's style in subsequent years. Unfortunately, he was never given the chance to share in the credits, and that's one of the main reasons for the group's breakup in 1980, and for his exclusion from the band after their "Hell Freezes Over" reunion tour of the mid-1990s. It's a real shame that those guys couldn't work out their differences. For example, there is a dispute over who really wrote "Hotel California," the music of which he claims was almost entirely his. That was, of course, the finale of the evening; his nine-song set lasted a little under one hour. I was unaware that he wrote the theme song for the movie Heavy Metal, which he also played. Felder is a great guitarist and not a bad singer, even though he hardly ever sang lead parts on Eagles songs. Since the Eagles are probably my favorite group, I was just delighted with that part of the concert. Big smiles!
As befitting a rock star, Felder's attire reminded me of the line in Tom Petty's song "Into the Great Wide Open": "His leather jacket had chains that would jingle." His official website (donfelder.com) currently displays a link to a story in Guitar World that "Hotel California" was chosen as the all-time number one 12-string guitar song, in their list of 30 such songs. As usual, I took notes of the song titles as they were played, and for this part of the concert at least I didn't need any help in identifying them:
- Already Gone
- One of These Nights
- Heavy Metal
- Seven Bridges Road
- Witchy Woman
- The Long Run
- Heartache Tonight
- Life In the Fast Lane
- Hotel California
Don Felder shakes hands with fans at the end of his show. (Roll your mouse over to see a closeup of him playing.)
Act II: REO Speedwagon
After a short break, REO Speedwagon took the stage, with front man Kevin Cronin clearly in charge. He is a diminuitive fellow, and wore odd glasses, kind of like Elton John. I only had a vague idea of the complicated history of that group, and Cronin's role in it. I clearly remember their first big hit "Ridin' the Storm Out" from my college days, but that was recorded while Cronin was out of the band. He joined in early 1972, left in 1973, and then rejoined for good in 1976. He plays guitars, sings, and does some keyboard work. Among the other band members, keyboardist Neal Doughty is the only one of the original members (1967) who has stayed with the group all the way through. Bruce Hall has been the bassist since 1977, and Dave Amato has been lead guitarist since 1989. He replaced Gary Richrath, a major creative force who joined in 1970. (He died in 2015.) Bryan Hitt became the drummer in 1989, at the same time as Amato. The group had its origins in the suburbs of Chicago. For more info about albums, tour dates, etc., see the group's website: reospeedwagon.com
It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that REO Speedwagon reached its peak of success. It always seemed to me that their songs from that period had more of a pop music appeal, not as much hard rock as before. For a while during the latter years of the classic rock era, they were a veritable hit machine.
So, I had high expectations, and for the most part the group met and surpassed them. I wasn't familiar with some of the songs, but that's OK. They were tight, well-rehearsed and enthusiastic about playing some great old tunes. You can't ask for more from a bunch of guys in their 50s and 60s!
- Don't Let Him Go
- ( In Your Letter ) **
- Keep Pushin'
- I Can't Fight This Feeling
- Tough Guys
- Whipping Boy
- ( That Ain't Love ) **
- Take It On the Run
- Time For Me to Fly
- Back On the Road Again
- Ridin' the Storm Out
- Keep On Loving You
- Roll With the Changes
- Listen to Your Heart (Tom Petty cover)
** Song title from setlist.fm.
I noticed that several of the REO songs had alternate guitar tunings, such as "Time For Me to Fly." That inspired me to learn a few new songs by them, in addition to "Take It On the Run" and "Ridin' the Storm Out," which I already knew. (I've played them both in public.)
REO Speedwagon: In front is Kevin Cronin (wearing platform-sole shoes), bassist Bruce Hall, drummer Bryan Hitt, and keyboardist Neal Doughty. Another member, lead guitarist Dave Amato, is apparently off to the right, but it's hard to tell. Taking good photos with the harsh glare of concert lights is very difficult.
Act III: Styx
The final and perhaps leading act of the evening was Styx, named after the Greek mythological river that marks the border of Hades, the realm of the afterlife. Although I was not familiar with the three songs they played from their new album (The Mission, about a space adventure), I enjoyed them all. "Blue Collar Man" and "Lady" really fired up the crowd.
Like REO Speedwagon, Styx has its origins in the state of Illinois, and likewise the group has endured more than its share of personnel changes over the years. They rose to rock stardom at roughly the same time as the other group, but their appeal was perhaps a little narrower due to what might be called their special artistic vision. Styx was a prime example of progressive rock, following in the footsteps of Yes and Pink Floyd. Kansas (one of my favorite groups) bears some stylistic similarities to Styx, except that Styx was always more self-consciously theatrical. The "missing person" was Dennis DeYoung, the singer and keyboardist who wrote or co-wrote most of the group's hits. He was with the group from 1970 until 1984 and then for two separate periods in the 1990s; he left for good in 1999. (As with REO Speedwagon, the personnel history is based on the CDs I have as well as wikipedia.org and the group's own website: styxworld.com.)
- Gone Gone Gone #
- Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
- The Grand Illusion
- ( Light Up ) **
- Radio Silence #
- Miss America
- Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)
- Too Much Time On My Hands
- Khedive #
- Bohemian Rhapsody (part; Queen cover)
- Come Sail Away
- Rockin' the Paradise
** Song title from setlist.fm.
The three songs marked with hashtags (#) are from the new Styx album, The Mission (2017). The song "Light Up" (which I could not identify that night) was from their album Equinox (1975), which also featured "Lorelei," which I do remember.
As with REO Speedwagon, I was inspired by the concert to learn some of Styx's songs, but most of them are just not suited for a solo guitarist like me. I did learn "Come Sail Away" and "Lady," and managed to do a fair job on the latter in public once or twice. I learned "Fooling Yourself" many years ago, but have not yet played it in public.
So all in all, it was a fantastic concert experience, and one of the best music values (dollar-wise) that I have ever had. As classic rock groups age and start to retire, the opportunities to see some of them are dwindling. I would highly recommend seeing any of these performers, either alone or in a paired set (or triple set), as the case may be. Don't miss them!
Styx, with Tommy Shaw in front on the guitar and vocals, James Young (also guitar) behind him, Todd Sucherman on the drums, Ricky Phillips on top with the bass, and Lawrence Gowan (in red) on the keyboard. (Roll your mouse over to see a the stage being prepared for the show, in better light.)