Sometimes I wish we could have a block party on every street in this city - and on the same day. No cars, no trucks. Just block party after block party, so you could walk from Hamilton to Little Italy, by way of Govans and Waverly and Middle East, or from Mount Washington all the way to Pigtown, sampling food and flea markets and bingo games along the way. We should have one day designated: Block Party Baltimore.
I dream, of course. The source of this delirium was another visit to yet another St. Anthony Festival in Little Italy over the weekend. They closed down a few streets, as usual, and lined them with booths. On Exeter Street, they had picnic tables. The Monaldi Brothers and the Al Baitch Quartet performed. (Al is 74 and still blows a mean sax, though his sets aren't quite as long as they used to be. "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I'll be right back. I have to take a three-minute hygenical break.") And people sat and ate and drank and talked and laughed, and little kids ran around. A guy showed strangers how well his dog responded to commands.
It was nice, real nice, the streets full of aromas - fried dough, marinara sauce, grilled meats, cigar smoke - a big block party. And we saw some old friends - Elia Mannetta, back from Big Italy for a visit with his parents; Dominic "Yama" (pronounced Yah-me) DeFelice, still burning up the boccie courts at the age of almost 80; Tony DeSales, the street artist, who slipped into St. Leo's Church about 4:30 and played "Ave Maria" on the organ; the woman with the big hair whose name I can never remember but who always smiles when she sees me and calls me, "Don Rodnicks," which makes us even. We should have block parties more often.
A toast to Miss Helena
Saturday's funeral for Helena Bigham, longtime regular at Long John's Pub and a fixture in Remington for decades, included a cortege that wound through her old neighborhood and paused at the pub. Everyone stepped outside for a toast to the woman who once declared that "only the Lord will take me out of Remington." Placed by the casket for the viewing at Burgee-Henss on Falls Road was a floral arrangement that included six cans of Natural Light. She was buried with a can of beer. "In case she gets thirsty on the way up," someone said. The Long John regulars put on a big buffet after the service. Rest in peace, Miss Helena.
Saluting the flag
We bought an American flag the other day at - where else? - the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, and I was surprised and happy to learn that there's no sales tax on flags. It's also nice to see out-of-town visitors taking the tour of Mary Young Pickersgill's house and getting all wowed about the story behind the national anthem. Saturday, we actually overheard a woman from Philadelphia tell her companion: "This was better than going to the aquarium." Good news for the Flag House: More than $5,000 was raised through the sale of $2 raffle tickets on Barbara Pietila's Baltimore Bicentennial Quilt signed by, among other prominent citizens, Cal Ripken Jr., Anne Tyler and Johnny U. Some lucky person will end up with a unique collectible.
Dontae Winslow, up from North Avenue with his golden trumpet, has a new CD called "Divine Order." (The same words that appear in tattoo on his right forearm.) Some excellent stuff on this one, friends - some smooth jazz, some jumpin' funk - but, for my taste, a little too much rap that gets a little too preachy at times. The disc starts with an "Amazing Grace" that leaves you wondering: Is it Winslow or is it Marsalis? But after that start, we get rapped by a young man whose first talent is the horn. As much as I like some of these songs, especially one dedicated to kids titled "My Everything," it's the trumpet that gets us excited about Dontae Winslow. Winslow defends the rap/jazz mixture as innovative. "I'm about the advancement of music and rap is a rich musical form," he said over the weekend. "I want to innovate, not recreate." How do you argue with that? I'd be the last one to stifle a young guy's creativity. He might be on to something big. ZTC But, for now, this is where I'm coming from: The kid is so damn good with that horn, he should treat us to as much of it as possible. Listen to his brilliance in "When I Fall In Love," a little surprise slipped, without note, between original songs, and you'll see what I mean. It's fabulous.
Boogie blues diva Deanna Bogart leaves Maryland again real soon - like, two days ago - for another big summer tour. (She's another one of our own, not fully appreciated 'round these parts, in demand all over elsewhere.) Having just released her fourth CD, "The Great Unknown," Deanna and the boys are off to California for, among other stops, the Monterey Bay Blues Festival, the High Sierra Music Festival and the Central Coast Blues Fest in Santa Barbara. She's not back in Baltimore till next month. She's due at Eight by Ten on the 24th. I The fourth annual Baltimore Blues Festival comes to the Dead Eye yacht basin Saturday, with another big lineup. If you're runnin' low on soul, this'll pick you up. The double dose of Big Jesse Yawn and Kelly Bell alone might set you for life.
More notes on music
A nice surprise: a singer-songwriter and a mean guitar player who goes by Vince Junior. He has a CD (recorded at Birdfeeder in Baltimore, with some help from Big Blow and the Bushwackers) called "Better Than a Wheel," dedicated to Vince "Senior" Floriani, identified as the artist's "first music teacher." Vince Junior looks like Frank Zappa some, sounds like Leonard Cohen, with inspirations from Tom Waits and Leo Kottke. I'm guessing those are prime influences, at the risk of disappointing this mysterious Vince Junior. It's evident from his first disc that he's been working quite hard to develop a unique style. The guitar, a good ol' National resonator, gives the songs a Southern swampy edge. They could be tracks for a Jim Jarmusch film. Not bad for a New York boy who teaches in a Baltimore public school. Good stuff.
Pub Date: 6/15/98