Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Straw bale gardening!

I'm either a sucker for anything trendy related to gardening, or I continue my quest to grow vegetables tomatoes at our home. I would hope that the latter is closer to the truth, but we've experimented with topsy-turvy upside-down planters, square-foot gardening, container-only gardening, and plant-in-the-dang-dirt-and-hope-something grows gardening. (Note: Topsy-turvys worked very well when we lived in an apartment and had a balcony that got lots of light. Everything else has been meh.)

So this year, it's straw bales!

As Joel Karsten, the main evangelist for straw bale gardening puts it, vegetables and flowers need good soil, and weekend gardeners want to minimize the amount of time and maintenance needed to keep a garden healthy.

This method of gardening works very well from areas inside the Arctic Circle, to the heat of the Caribbean.  If you can find bales of straw, or similar bales of tightly compressed organic material, you can garden this way. Simply replacing existing soil with a "container" filled with beautiful "conditioned" compost as your growing media.  From airid desert regions to the rainiest places in the world, if you have access to sunlight and water then this method of growing will work.  No special tools are required, and no knowledge of gardening is really required to be successful.  The elimination of many of the most common problems associated with vegetable gardening, makes this method great for beginning gardeners, organic growers, or those experienced gardeners that are just tired of all the hard work.

Here's our deal. We have lots of moles and voles that eat stuff below ground level. We have deer and squirrels and birds that eat stuff above ground level. We have few spots in the yard that get full sun for more than a few hours a day. We could invest several hundred dollars and build raised beds or buy containers. Instead, I invested less than $100 in 10 straw bales and the equipment to set them up. (Oh, and another $100 or so in watering devices and varmint-repelling stuff that I would have purchased even if we didn't go the straw bale route.)

With applications of water and fertilizer, the bales start to decompose from the inside. The rotting straw becomes a sterile form of compost, and an excellent growing medium. Regular watering and additional feeding is all you do. No weeding necessary! (allegedly)

Let's get started! First, purchase a few straw bales from a local garden supply store, home improvement center, farmers coop location, or farm. Be sure to get wheat straw and not hay, unless you want to grow a bale of grass. I started with two, and put them out in mid-January.

Before setting the bales in place, I prepped the spot the spot by placing on the ground a layer of newsprint, added a layer of hardware cloth (the metal mesh variety), landscaping fabric, and another layer of newsprint before tacking it down with garden staples. From there, I started topping the bales with nitrogen-heavy fertilizer as the book/website instructs.

After spreading the goodness on each bale, I thoroughly watered the top to soak in the fertilizer.

Water daily, adding more fertilizer on alternating days. Lather, rinse, repeat. The entire process is supposed to take roughly two weeks, with some variations. More here.

I started this in early January, hoping to plant peas, chard, bok choy, and other cold-hardy stuff first. Then this intervened.

Gardening was on hold for several weeks, as the snows were followed by single-digit temperatures, more snow (here's mid-February),

and chilling rains until, well, last week.

In between the storms, I did set out my cold-weather veggie seeds as Karsten suggested, using homemade seed tape. He devised an ingenious method of spacing seeds in between sheets of two-ply paper towels and holding them in place with a paste of flour and water. It's much cheaper than seed tape you'd buy from a garden center, and you can prepare it in advance and store until ready to set outside. You spread potting mix on top of the bale, put the seed tape on top of that, and then cover with more potting mix. For some reason, I did not document this with photos at the time, but here's what they looked like in early March. The tags indicate what I planted and help anchor bird-netting to keep the scavengers at bay.

Back to Groundhog Day. I fired up the grow light and started seeds: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, basil. These will go in the second batch of bales after the threat of frost has ended.

Then ... patience for several weeks. I watered the bales a few times a week to keep them wet. Finally, last Saturday we purchased the last batch of bales.

Fortunately, Cara did not disown me for hauling all these bales in and on the car. After unloading them, the prepping process began anew.

The next day, I filled in the areas between the rows with paper and fabric and covered the entire perimeter with mulch.

I also moved a standing planter (seen in left top corner) near the area, so I can water everything simultaneously.

And then, the fertilizing and watering began.

This weekend, I plan to move fence posts from our former garden bed to the straw bale area to provide stability to the bales. I also may install my high-tech deer-frightening technology. With luck, within two weeks, the bales will be seasoned and the seedlings will be large enough to plant outdoors. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Cactus moving day

I'm not sure how you spent the early part of your Super Bowl Sunday, but I spent mine moving our Eastern prickly pear cactus. It began its journey with us in an unassuming, 8-inch pot. After languishing more than a year in our front yard, I built a scree (desert garden area) and transplanted it there, along with other succulents.

I must have found the perfect growing medium, because after three years, it was trying to crowd out everything else in it. What happened was that every winter, when the plant went dormant, it shot new roots from the pads and expanded its footprint, as it were. Then when the weather warmed, the new, wider plant grew even more.

How much more? I learned today. When the weather turned cold, I decided to divide it and move it to several spots in the yard. The first was a small raised bed where we had (unsucessfully) tried to grow leafy greens.

The first bit to go was a pad that had broken off of the original plant and taken on a life of its own. I had mulched the scree with leaves and had no idea how big the thing had gotten until I cleared the leaves and dug it up.

It's the only thing in this patch of dirt, which has been amended with Permatill, an engineered granite (made right here in North Carolina!) that is used to improve drainage.

I turned a couple shovels full of Permatill in the dirt, put the "pup" (which was a lot bigger than the original plant) in its new home, and covered it with more dirt.

Then it was time to remove and replant the mother ship. With all those roots, the only solution was to chop it into little pieces (One of these days, Roger Waters) and pile up the parts in the cart.

I took the plant to the west side of our house, which has healthy dirt, gets plenty of afternoon sun, and has no water spigot close by. So I cleared some weeds and dug a trench, which I lined with Permatill.

Then I just laid several of the pieces in the trench.

Finally, I covered the plant parts with dirt and Permatill, and will hope for the best.

The power pole is on the southeast corner of our yard, and there's some really nice dirt there, again with little access to water. Some gladiolas and lilies try to grow there, but they ususally poop out during the heat of summer. I thought it would be an excellent place to amend a spot and put one of the cactus parts in.

The pot on the right has a mix of mostly Turface, an engineered clay that's used to improve drainage on baseball fields and as the "drying agent" the grounds crews spread on the mound during rain delays. I don't like it as much as Permatill, because it's not "permanent," but the soil was pretty loose there, and I thought it would work fine.

Finally, I had a lot of cactus left unused.

I decided to try the New York, New York experiment: Dig a hole in a pile of leaves we were using as mulch and compost, toss the cactus in the hole, and cover it with leaves.

If the prickly pear can make it there, it can make it anywhere.

The worst thing that results from this is we have to go back to the farmer's market and plunk down another $20 for a new prickly pear. The best thing? The plants in our scree have some breathing room, and we end up with a dramatic display of native cactus.

Next week, I'll move an agastache that's on the other side of the scree and causing a similar problem on a smaller scale.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The political parties aren't ... quite dead

If you accept the notion that money has too much influence in politics, consider GOP strategist Karl Rove, who had visions of creating a "permanent Republican majority." Turns out that the all-powerful Rove was incapable of buying a few Senate seats. The two independent political groups he spearheaded, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, spent somewhere between $176 million and $300 million backing Mitt Romney and a targeted group of Senate and House candidates. What did he and his donors get for their money? Not much.

We know Romney lost. But so did 10 of the 12 Senate candidates and four of the nine House contenders the Rove groups backed. Bloomberg News reported.

Which brings me to John Hood's column today reviewing (among other things) the tenor of the presidential campaign. It included this gem:

Because the Republicans relied heavily on independent expenditures to make up for President Obama’s advantage in hard money, they were forced to make less-efficient advertising buys. Under federal law, the campaigns themselves are entitled to preferential rates from broadcast stations. But independent groups buying time to boost their favorite candidates or criticize others buy their ad time at higher rates. Want to see the difference? During the last week in October, the Romney campaign spent $12.9 million to air about 20,000 ads while a pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, spent $13.4 million to air about 11,000 ads.

“Given the stiff competition for airtime in battleground states, and the resulting rise in the prices that outside group sponsors are paying, it is starting to dawn on political contributors that sending their money to these groups may not be the most efficient way to get their favored candidates elected,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “I suspect that contributors may reevaluate their giving patterns before 2016 rolls around.”

So the much-reviled (by the Left, anyway) Citizens United Supreme Court decision may have allowed a lot more money to flow into political races, but the evil geniuses on the Right weren't able to transform those dollars into wins. At least not uniformly.

As John suggested, political donors may well look to those relics of a bygone era, political parties, to handle their campaign contributions over the next election cycle or two. The parties offer a tangible benefit: more ads for fewer dollars; and an intangible one: none of the stigma attached to the "shadowy" independent groups.

So the political parties, which allegedly have been pushing up the daisies since David Broder wrote their obituary in 1972, may just have been pining for the fjords after all.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Disjointed election ruminations and various catching up

It seems like I come back here every six or seven months, whether or not I need to.

Since my last post, we've lost a beloved family member, Mandy (who left us at about age 110),

gained a beloved family member (Grover, who's a genuine hoot, sweetheart, and the king of the daily walks)

and appear to be on the verge of losing another beloved family member (the wonderful Nano, who's about as broken-down as Mandy was when she passed on).

We've also traveled and gardened and rearranged furniture and I've enjoyed covering an election cycle in a role much like that of the metro editor of a capital daily. (Carolina Journal's election coverage is here.)

Which brings me to today's post.

I'm still stunned about the outcome of the election, not because I thought Mitt Romney was destined for greatness, but because I spent too much time being absorbed with politics and not enough time enjoying life. I mistakenly thought that because North Carolinians were jacked up about the election, that energy was present across the country. (Turnout in the Tar Heel State was nearly 68 percent, about 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Wow.)

Moreover, I believed the hype that Americans would never re-elect a president with such a dismal record, particularly when Republicans nominated the best candidate who chose to run, and someone inoffensive in a Ward Cleaver way. Also, I kept hearing the talk that we were ready for someone who could mend some of the wounds in our civic life, and who better to do that than a clean-cut, family man (who's perhaps more generous than wealthy) like Romney?

(For the record, had Romney won, my projection was that his place in the presidential pantheon would land somewhere between GHW Bush and Bill Clinton, sans the bimbos. A gentleman's B or C, most likely.)

But who could have guessed that, in a low-ish turnout election — perhaps 8 to 10 million fewer voters than in 2008 — Republicans would lose? Isn't that what Republicans usually want? Keep the low-information, unmotivated voters away, and the conservative will win?

Instead, it appears that the people who stayed away from the polls — those who vote when they think it's worth their while — were largely Romney's people, many blue-collar or rust belt whites, a lot of them underemployed or unemployed. Romney didn't connect with them; neither did Obama, so they stayed home. When all the votes are counted, Romney may wind up with fewer votes than John McCain got in 2008. Obama may have gotten fewer black votes than he got in 2008 as well (my guess is, those conservative black preachers whose flocks were angry with Obama's stance on gay marriage took out their anger by abstaining, not by supporting Romney). Jonah Goldberg notes that Romney got fewer votes than George W. Bush from Mormons. Yikes.

Without mentioning the presidential race, I addressed one of the reasons Romney lost in a column published this week in Carolina Journal. Discussing the successful run of Republican Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, I said he

offered voters an appealing résumé combining public service and business experience, along with an optimistic vision for the state. He was an attractive candidate with ideas that met the times, showing that it takes more than money or organization to win an election. You need a sensible, relevant message and an effective messenger.

Among Romney's problems were his failure to break out of the image of the brainy yet pleasant technocrat he's offered since he lost to McCain in 2008. (BTW, I'm beginning to believe that had Romney somehow won the GOP nomination in 2008, he may have defeated Obama, because Romney's business acumen was exactly the image someone needed to project during the economic crash. Obama had no way to counter it. But I digress. I warned you this was disjointed.)

So, what now? I've read and heard enough ugly, snarling election postmortems over the past 72 hours. I've heard despair and anger, people saying the election offers clues — not good ones — about the worthiness of Americans to govern themselves. (Really? Is that where those on the right, broadly speaking, want to go?)

I also fear that a lot of conservatives were investing way too much in the outcome of the election. Like the legislator who believes that once a law passes, the problem it was intended to address has been solved, many seem to think that a Romney election miraculously would have fixed Washington.


Maybe the irrational despair will play out soon. I hope so.

Glenn Beck, of all people, was having a discussion this morning with his sidekicks about who was the best James Bond (Beck's leaning toward Daniel Craig), and when one of the fellows admitted he wasn't a Bond fan, Beck almost told the guy to turn in man card, after inviting the whole crew to his house for a Bond marathon.

Now, that's more like it.

One of the distinguishing factors of the classical liberal viewpoint, broadly speaking, is that we are more than political beings or economic actors. Civil society matters. The "little platoons" Edmund Burke spoke about — family, community, faith, culture — should define us more than our views on marginal tax rates or immigration reform.

Over the past couple of years, a lot of my political-minded friends seem to have lost that mooring. Maybe I have, too — from necessity, in part, to keep our publication up to date.

The energy I have for work is as strong as ever. We'll have the first legislative session in 140 years under Republican control with a Republican in the Executive Mansion. The policies I believe in (and that my JLF colleagues help formulate) will be more relevant than ever.

But I also plan to step back more when I'm off the clock and pay heed to other very important things. Fun things. Entertaining things. Enlightening things.

I would urge those who also believe in liberty and self-government do so more of the same — while not abandoning the fight.

We do have a messaging problem, and we must fix that. In the meantime, take in a movie. Go to the park. Kiss your spouse and hug your kids. Play with your pets. Keep calm and carry on, as they say.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Gardening, 2012

We're entering the third full year in our house, and we learn something new about gardening here every season. Last year we tried growing most of our vegetables in large containers and put up a Topsy Turvy tree. That didn't work well, requiring lots of water and producing very little we could eat.

This time, we're going more traditional, planting in our 12-by-12 and 3-by-3 raised beds (with a few exceptions). We're also using a modified version of square-foot gardening, a system Cara has used before with success.

We started largely with a blank slate -- a few Columbines and two large chive plants, plus peas I planted a few weeks ago.

Then, I used a garden fork to turn the soil.

To set up a vertical space for the plants to grow, I stole an idea from one of our neighbors: install six-foot fenceposts and hang fencing on them.

And after hanging the fencing, we put in a small drip irrigation hookup.

Finally, we planted a dozen tomatoes, five peppers, four eggplants, three cucumbers, and two yellow squash. That was a lot of work for one day. So we plan to add okra, zucchini, beans, and annual herbs (basil and parsley) later.

We also draped some bird netting over the fencing to keep some of the parasites away.

I'll update as the season goes along.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Yours truly on the American Jobs Act

Here's an interview I did with Carolina Journal Radio on a math problem we discovered when President Obama was promoting his jobs bill.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our long national nightmare is over (I break blog silence)

No, I don't mean the Obama administration, dagnab it. I'm talking about the Butch Davis era at Chapel Hill.

I probably couldn't find the posts now, but on Facebook I was calling for Davis to be fired a year ago, when the sordid mess came to light. And after the initial Marvin Austin tweets came to light, and the NCAA visited Carolina's campus, the situation worsened -- capped off by the academic scandal.

All along, Davis pulled what Triangle Internet Legend BobLee called the "Sgt. Schultz" defense: I know nothing!

BobLee — UNC alum, conservative curmudgeon, and all-around neat guy, has been the best source of info and insight throughout the debacle. He identified John "Black Santa" Blake, Butch's associate head coach and main recruiter (and, literally, former student, as Butch was one of Blake's high school teacher), who was on the payroll of a professional agent while he was recruiting high school kids and preparing them for the Lig. He also introduced us to Bob Winston, until recently the chairman of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees, the man who orchestrated Butch's hiring and his strongest defender.

Today's installment covers the Davis resignation and the press conference featuring Chancellor Holden Thorp and soon-to-retire AD Dickie Baddour.

My JLF colleague Jon Sanders offers a nice summary of some of the important questions about Davis that remain unanswered.

But the main one plaguing the program is: Why Now? BobLee has it right in an Occam's Razor-kinda way that the more "reputable" outlets have failed to emphasize: Thorp wanted to get rid of Davis all along but could not do so as long as Winston and his cronies were in charge. When new board members took office and Winston rotated out of the top spot, the new board wanted to put this mess behind them ASAP.

And so, the first day the new board met, Butch was out.

While Butch was at Carolina, he brought in a lot of talent but didn't win much. It seemed as if every year, eight or 10 guys would go to the NFL, but the team would finish around .500 in a mediocre ACC and lose in a bottom-tier bowl game.

Why did UNC choose to fire Davis now, eight days before the opening of practice? And why, when the university could have attempted to fire him for cause, did it choose instead to pay the $2.7 million balance of his contract?

My guess is, the defense Thorp and Baddour made of Davis throughout the scandal (at the previous BOT's insistence, no doubt) painted the university in a corner. If, in the process of firing Davis, Carolina said his actions brought disrepute on the university and damaged its reputation, then why did university officials stand behind him without reservation from the first inkling of trouble ... and do so as recently as this week? And how could Carolina claim that Davis was responsible for this when the NCAA did not mention Davis in the Notice of Allegations it issued this summer?

If Carolina fired Butch, his attorney Joseph Cheshire V (best defense lawyer in the state and a proud Carolina alum) would have sued immediately. And would have had a reasonable chance of prevailing. Plus, the program would have been dragged through the mud even more for months, if not years, as additional allegations (truthful or not) were aired publicly. The $2.7 million Carolina must pay Butch might have been chump change compared to the legal fees and damage in reputation the university and the football program would have suffered.

Again, why now? Why not let him coach the season? Just a hunch. This team may not be as talented as the group he had last year. But the ACC also is worse, and this bunch could win 10 games. Under the circumstances, unless the NCAA handed down the death penalty for the program, if Butch won 10 games and (who knows?) went to a BCS bowl game, you could not fire him. In fact, pressure would be on to give him an extension.

He had to go now.

What's next? I like the choice of DC Everett Withers as interim head coach. He wasn't part of Butch's original staff; I'm not even sure he had any history with Butch before getting the Carolina job three years ago. He's 48, a North Carolina native, very popular with the players, and has been considered a strong candidate for a head coaching job on his own. He may be auditioning for the permanent job.

If Withers isn't the eventual pick, I think it would be a huge mistake to pursue a big name. Jon Gruden? Bill Cowher? Rich Rodriguez? Please. If any of these guys would take the job, it likely would be a disaster. Either he would be a placeholder — the first time a "real" job came open, the coach would be gone in a flash. Or he'd be a white elephant, demanding a long-term contract and not producing. Kinda like Butch (ACC record 15-17; record against top rival N.C. State 0-4; 1-3 vs. Virginia Tech and the rather pathetic University of Virginia).

A much better outcome (if Withers isn't the choice) would be to find a young coach who's had success at a mid-major, much as Tennessee did by hiring Derek Dooley and Michigan did with Brady Hoke. Expect to be awful for three or four seasons but emerge from this disaster with an energetic coach who can make the program relevant for another decade.

For now, though, the legacy of Butch Davis is disastrous. Carolina's going to be hammered by the NCAA due to the mismanagement of a coach who didn't win. We got all of the punishment and none of the glory.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

King of all media?

Well, that was an interesting 36 hours.

Sunday, Reuters reporter Ned Barrett quoted JLF Commander John Hood in a story on the John Edwards indictment. NBC's Today Show wanted to interview the boss, who was on vacation. So, after a few phone calls, Today found me. We did an interview at the office Sunday afternoon, and a sound bite aired in Monday's program.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Then, Jon Stewart picked up on the story and did a segment on last night's Daily Show.

And I got a not-too-complimentary mention on the right-wing NewsBusters blog.

Not a bad day.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Merlefest 2011

2011 marked my fifth Merlefest and Cara's fourth. Last year, we swore we would not attend more than two days of the four-day festival. No matter how wonderful the music, how delightful the surroundings, and how enjoyable the company might be, spending more than 20 hours in the elements is too exhausting at our age.

So, of course, we ended up buying passes for all four days of Merlefest this year. We survived three (and would have made all four had we not both spotted the first signs of colds Sunday morning).

The original plan was to go only Friday and Saturday, but lineup was so strong this year that we decided to shoot for the entire weekend.

Good move. The weather was ideal -- highs in the mid-70s, night temps around 50. Sunny every day. From the initial counts, the initial counters put attendance at just over 80,000 for the weekend, in the top three all time.
We added Thursday when our friends the Wehrmanns got us tickets to the Wilkes Chamber Night event. For the cost of a one-night pass, the local Chamber of Commerce provides a buffet and reserved seating. Plus, the Del McCoury Band (my favorite performer among the long-time bluegrass artists) were on the bill that night. We bought a three-day pass including Sunday when Robert Plant and the Band of Joy were added to the schedule a few weeks ago.


Corb Lund and the Hurtin Albertans. Part Ian Tyson, part Hank Snow, part Marty Robbins, and a little Bob Wills thrown in for good measure. As my friend David Milstead told me on Facebook, "Sometimes I wonder at the ability of one person to write so many good songs. Particularly one person you've never heard of before."

Here's the band at the sound check on the Hillside Stage.

Harper and the Midwest Kind. I have little use for most jam bands, but these guys are good. Harper (from Australia) plays harmonica, John Popper-style, and -- yes -- a didgeridoo. The rest of the band hails from Michigan. Cara took a few photos on her camera of the band that I'll upload soon. We caught two sets and had fun.

Sarah Jarosz. I saw her appearance on Austin City Limits and had to download her first CD, not knowing she recorded it at age 17. Just another one of those Texas singer-songwriters who plays every string instrument under the sun and has an infectious voice. Among her several sets included one on the Cabin Stage (where the acts perform between sets on the main Watson Stage, so the music never stops) Saturday between Sam Bush and Lyle Lovett. The bookers must like her, because that's prime real estate -- it was the same slot where The Carolina Chocolate Drops made their prime time debut at Merlefest a few years ago. My nieces saw another set of hers where she said she was completely honored to be there. I hope they bring her back. Often.

Scythian. High-energy, kinda-Celtic, kinda-Cajun. Cara wanted an upbeat CD to play at the adult day center where she works, so we bought a copy of Cake for Dinner, their children's album ... and figured we might want to see them play. The CD is perfect, and the show was a blast.

Lost Bayou Ramblers. Think Buckwheat Zydeco meets the Rev. Horton Heat. Cara also bought their Vermillionaire CD for the day center. Another good choice.

Here they were on the Americana Stage.

The Waybacks and the Hillside Album Hour featuring The Waybacks with Joan Osborne.

OK, we're easy. We'll watch these guys play every day of the festival if we get the chance. The Friday afternoon set on the Americana Stage included a guest performance by Jens Kruger on banjo, who's surpassing Bela Fleck as my favorite contemporary banjo picker.

For the album hour, The Waybacks choose a classic rock record and play it in their own style, bringing lots of guest stars on board. It has become a highlight of the weekend, as this year an estimated 5,000 people crowded the hillside and surrounding parking lots to hear the show.

This time they chose the Allman Brothers Band's "Eat a Peach." From the reactions I witnessed, this wasn't as popular as their previous selections (Led Zeppelin II, Sticky Fingers, and Abbey Road). But I think it was their most successful execution. Warren Hood's fiddle made a terrific stand-in for Dickie Betts' slide guitar. James Nash's guitar work was stellar, as always. For her part, Joan Osborne had the perfect voice for those songs. Plus, cutting the interminable "Mountain Jam" from 33 minutes to about 12 was wise. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure others did.

Sam Bush Band. This is the second time we've seen them this year, and like The Waybacks, we could listen to Sam any time. The Merlefest set was much different from the one they played in Raleigh a couple of months ago, including several New Grass Revival songs and a cover of Jean-Luc Ponty's "New Country." No one holds a candle to him.

The Kruger Brothers. Uwe and Jens moved to the U.S. from Switzerland a number of years ago and have settled in Wilkes County. There are a lot of baroque influences in their compositions, and we find them fascinating. (Don't laugh. I'm taken back to some of the early Focus pieces when I hear them.) Plus, as I said, Jens is a terrific banjo player. We really like them.

We caught part of the sets of Jerry Douglas (he was opposite The Waybacks) and Lyle Lovett (we heard that on the radio heading home). Sonny Landreth put on an impressive performance but his electrified blues were out of place; fortunately, Jerry Douglas joined Landreth for the final number and, as Sonny said, "saved the day."

As I've written before, Merlefest is the most pleasant festival I've attended: best organized, most family/listener-friendly, with the clearest sound and sight lines. Plus, it's a relative bargain. Our Thursday Chamber ticket plus the three-day pass ran $160 per person. Even though we missed Sunday, we saw 17 performances. Try to beat that price.

Next year will be the 25th Merlefest. Will the bookers go traditional? Eclectic? Popular? We'll start to find out in October, when the first acts are announced.