Sure it’s cold, but….

December's subzero temps and snow

December’s subzero temps and snow

Yeah, there’s a lotta snow out there. Yeah, there’s a minus sign in front of the temperature. That means the annual self-imposed illness called “cabin-fever” is about to set in, but only if you choose to let it.  I choose not to let it set in. That’s why I look for ways to get out of the cabin, and the annual Blue Collar Cafe art shows are one way to do it.  The first one is Thursday, December 5.

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I started getting ready for the show back in October.  I’ve found a photographic niche, nostalgic romantic images of North Dakota history.  That includes a farmstead long abandoned with an unused Ford pickup parked in the front yard.

Oliver County Farm in barn board frame I made

Oliver County Farm in barn board frame I made

Or a farmstead on the edge of a growing pothole, water lapping at the doorstep.

Sheridan County abandoned farmstead about to be overtaken by growing pothole.

Sheridan County abandoned farmstead about to be overtaken by growing pothole.

I’ve found antique cars such as this 1941 Ford Tudor Deluxe parked in a pasture in northern Burleigh County.Old Fordt wtrmrk Mike shoots old Ford

They’re part of my collection of images headed to the Blue Collar Art Show and Soiree.  The Blue Collar Cafe on Airport Road across the tracks from Krolls Kitchen hosts monthly art shows beginning in December, and I’ve been pleased and honored to be a part of the shows.  The owner, Jerod Hawk advised me to come in with larger pieces than what someone at home could print out from their computer.  So, I have. These are as large as 2’x3′ framed images.

A few images for blue collar show

Late at night I’ve worked in my wood shop, turning old barn siding in to frames for my images. The wood is from a 105 year old barn between Anamoose and Goodrich that blew down about 5 years ago.  I maintain all its color and character.  The texture, the warp and the bends in the wood makes it a challenge to create a straight and square build, but it gives each frame its unique style and color.

Selecting the right piece of wood for a frame

Selecting the right piece of wood for a frame

On many snowy winter nights, you’ll find me in my wood shop sorting and selecting the wood, matching its dimension, color and grain for both the inner frame and outer border (making it two frames, one inner and one outer)  to create as uniform appearance for each frame, yet different from every other one.1201131859

A few of the images I’m taking back to this show were quite popular at last year’s Blue Collar art shows, that includes this one of the Pettibone Brain Company. (No that’s not a typo. The private owner climbed up there after he bought the structure and turned the “g” in to a “b” to make the word “brain.”)

Pettibone "Brain" Elevator

Pettibone “Brain” Elevator

This year’s Blue Collar art shows are bigger than last year’s first shows.  The floor space is more than double from the original space and there will be twice as many artists. I’m blessed to be one of them.

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Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show

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Late nights meant burning the midnight oil — and wood — to get frames ready for the show.

What a surprising opportunity!

It’s crunch time producing exclusive handmade frames to go with matted photos for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  North Dakota barn board, North Dakota images, North Dakota art — I’m fortunate to be one-quarter of the show at the little coffee shop and cafe on the east side of Bismarck.

It’s a win-win-win.  The Blue Collar Cafe gets more traffic, four artists get more exposure and Black Friday shoppers get original handmade art at ridiculously low prices.  If the same products were in Macy’s or Daytons, they’d be hundreds of dollars.  But here, only tens of dollars.

I visited with Jerod Hawk earlier this week when the idea was kicked about.  Within an hour Hawk had lined up four artists to set up on Friday at his little coffee shop and cafe. That was Tuesday. Now here it is Thursday and we’re almost ready to throw open the doors to throngs of people who want a piece of North Dakota.

Since the idea first took hold,  I’ve been keeping the wood fires burning in my wood shop making frames.  .  As it is, I have mass-produced hand-made frames for an inventory, but not as many as I would have liked for this little show.

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The abandoned Pettibone Elevator at Lake Williams is one of my favorite pieces that will be on display at the Blue Collar Cafe art show on Friday.

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From near Rugby, this abandoned farmstead is wrapped in a barn board frame from a barn near Good Rich.

Tuesday and Wednesday I started the work of matching photos I had on hand to the frames I thought would work.  I think I went about it backwards. I first should have selected the prints, then built the frames to fit.

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Color looks good in the barn board frame from a 100-year old barn near Goodrich on the left, and in a frame from a 100-year old barn that once stood near Almont

Either way, it was crunch time. I turned my kitchen in to a matting and framing shop.  I brought in all the frames I thought would work from my wood shop.  Then I started matching prints to frames.

A couple of quick trips to Bismarck and I bought a few pieces of glass and some mat board.  I would have liked more, but time was running out.    Wednesday I put in some 12 hours framing and matting. Sadly I got in to so much of a rush I ended up damaging three prints and throwing them in to the trash.  A couple of my larger print were damaged and so will only be on display as examples, but not for sale. They’re not “perfect.”  Mats were crooked, images warped.  *groan*

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Wilton’s Soo Line Depot, also 100 years old (1910) is framed in 100-year-old wood from a barn near Goodrich.

So, here it is Thanksgiving days.  Just as the other three artists and Hawk are doing, we’re dedicating a portion of the day to getting ready for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  It’s a first, so we don’t know what to expect, how much room we have or how many people show up.

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Grain bins from near Regan in barn board from a 100-year old barn near Almont will be at the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.

Here’s your invitation to joins us. 135 Airport Road, Bismarck, just across the RR tracks from Krolls Diner, one block south of Main Street in East Bismarck.

Come on down!

Dang it’s wet.

Flooded farm

Spring 2011 is historic for its wetness, beyond anything every recorded in North Dakota.  In the prairie pothole region of North Dakota between Steel and Devils Lake, up through Hurdsfield, the saying is, “You can’t get there from here.”  Even if you’re in the farm house, you can’t get to the barn.  I’m standing on the road to the farm house, and I can’t get there either.

Hwy 36 flooded at Wing

It’s true everywhere.  In the morning I drove down this road and the water was lapping at the shoulders.  By evening, it was deep over the road and I couldn’t get the last 23 miles home.

Kids sandbagging

Of course what was an inconvenience for me was a disaster for many. That’s why sandbagging became the social event of Spring 2011 in Bismarck.  You can bet when these youngsters are grandparents, they’ll be telling their kids about the flood of 2011 when the Missouri River topped all historic levels.  The town of Bismarck and area residents turned out to shovel sandbags.  I borrowed a neighbor’s trailer and hauled sandbags to folks who were fighting the Muddy Mo.  But if it weren’t for the hundreds of volunteers at the sandbag sites, there’s be no way homeowners could protect their homes from the 500-year level flood.

From the northwest corner of the state at Williston through central North Dakota, down to South Dakota, the story was the same.  Too much water.  The Army Corps of Engineers held back as much water as it wanted at the Corps dams, Sakakawea, Fort Pierre and Chamberlain until the river threatened the dams.  Then came the big releases that flooded downstream cities such as Bismarck and Mandan.

Though the sign was in the perpetually flooded town of  Devils Lake when I drove through there it summed up the feelings of most people — just add a few more zeros to the capacity of the requested ark.

Now as you look back to the spring of 2011 — what word would you use to describe it?  I already used the word “wet.” Your turn.

Good music makes cold weather bearable — January ’11

Dirty Word Dad and Daughter

Music runs in this family.  Dirty Word is a fun talented regional bar band.  Well, actually a cut above most bar bands because even though their music is mostly covers, they put their own twists to the songs they do, their own arrangements if you will. That tells me the band members are talented. More so, to see the lead singer and his daughter together on the stage tells me the talent is in their DNA.  For just a couple songs at Burnt Creek, a dance bar north of Bismarck, dad and daughter entertained the crowd.  She not only has talent, but has poise and confidence — enough to stand alone to sing to a building full of respectful and admiring adults.

After a couple of songs, off she went, out the back door — I assume to the motel where her mother or other caretaker was waiting. After all, though it was 9 p.m. when she was on stage, it’s still late for a girl of her age.  From then on, the crowd danced to and was entertained by the good music of Dirty Word.  It’s a Minneapolis band that is too good for little smokey bars and clubs, but probably not good enough to hold the stage at a festival or other music event such as 10K lakes.  If you get the chance however, pay the cover charge and check out Dirty Word.  I endorse the band on a cold winter night. It will get you out of the cabin, down the trail, in to humanity for an evening.

Bands seem to flourish in the winter in Bismarck.  Take Midnight Noise Orchestra.  These guys have been parts of other bands and they’ve come together for a year or two now, entertaining at local venues, usually free.  No cover charge. They play at street festivals and other artistic and open venues.  They hold your attention and keep you coming back for their own tunes.  They’re a little bit of a jam band, folk, reggae, rock, jazz, blues band. Each song does not sound like the next song, the next song, the next song….  They’re original and entertaining.

On this night, I caught Midnight Noise Orchestra at Captain Freddie’s in Mandan.  The bar caters to a young crowd and the river crowd — even has it’s own dock for Missouri River boaters to stop for a brew.  Since there’s not much of a boat crowd in the winter, music brings in the patrons.  Midnight Noise does it well.

I like shooting bands. I hope to put together an entire portfolio of my photographs of local musicians. They’re talented, but don’t have much marketing to take them up the ladder of success. I can, however, provide them with a few good shots for their own portfolio.  In the mean time, I get stretched as a photographer.  It’s not easy working with low light situations — changing colors of the stage lights, and fast moving people. I’ve found that setting my white balance to “auto,”  cranking up the ISO to about 1,200 and opening up my aperture as far as it will go allows me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to freeze the players.

Not only that, I get to enjoy the good music, connect with band members — and get a break from cabin fever.  Bismarck-Mandan has an abundance of talented musicians, so cabin fever will have an abundance of opportunity for relief.  What about you? Are you more likely to catch a good musical group in the winter or the summer?

December 30 — Grindhouse Theater Blues

Grindhouse Theater blues

We leave 2010 with a recurring theme — local musicians.  It’s been an unexpected pleasure this year to shoot the bands and musicians I’ve hooked up with such as these fellows.  On the left,Weston Shick. On the right Arnold Jordan.  (I have yet to be introduced to the guitarist in the middle.)

North Dakota is blessed with rich musical talent.  I think it is because there are people in this culture who realize if there’s going to be entertainment here, they have to make it. So, they make entertainment for themselves and for us.

For my part, I try to capture not only the moment as it existed, but add to it in a bit of a creative burst of energy, my own interpretation of the moment with processing and framing.  That’s the entertainment I make for myself.

There are few places for them to perform, but the East 40 Chophouse in Bismarck is one.  The lounge with its cozy atmosphere and warm fireplace is a great place to enjoy a respite from winter with good friends such as these.

December 25 – Lonely Capitol Grounds at Christmas

All Veterans Memorial

Christmas night I headed back home to Wilton after sharing a Christmas dinner and gifts with a friend in Bismarck.  As I drove by the State Capitol I swung in to the building that glowed in the trees — the All Veterans Memorial.  It wasn’t planned, it’s not even a tradition, but I felt touched at that moment to give thanks for the gift these men and women have given me — their service, their lives for my freedom, for America.  Yes it was cold. I didn’t stay long.  I didn’t have my tripod.  I used a slow shutter speed and braced the camera on a nearby tree. It seemed to work.

When I turned to go back to my truck I saw the moon was rising on this sub-zero night, illuminating the air over the sidewalk lights.  Again, bracing my camera, I tried a couple of different shots, slung my camera back over my shoulder and walked to the truck. I am thankful not only for the Gift God has given me, but the blessing of living in a free country where I can walk around the capital complex on a holiday night without thought to my safety and without the hassle of soldiers and guns.  America, a gift.

December 20 – Bismarck’s Army of Snowmovers

Mass attack of snow plows

Here they come. Bismarck’s Street Crew is standing shoulder to shoulder to clear out Highway 83 in Bismarck.

The army of snowplows takes precedence over general traffic to clear a route out of town toward the north.  It’s the first leg of clean highway that the state and city keeps open so that power plant and coal mine workers can get to their jobs.

I was leaving town to head back to Wilton when I saw the street brigade headed my way. There was no way I was going to get out in front of them because traffic was too heavy. So, I consigned myself to follow them north and take a few photos as I went.

As in any city with multi-lane streets and highways, there’s no place to pile the snow should one plow be sent out. So the plows take all the snow from across the lanes and move it off to the ditch.  And to do it without causing traffic accidents with the large windrows of snow down the street, the road graders do it in one concerted move.

Follow the plow

Of course it means a few drivers will be inconvenienced for a few minutes as the plows do their job.  But it’s worth it. They leave behind clean and safe streets.  How well does your city crews keep open your streets?  Good? Bad? Medium?

November 23 The Walrus makes music

Weston Shick

Now that winter has descended, people start looking for things to do, to liven up the long cold days.  Places such as The Walrus in Bismarck accommodate those looking for life.  In this case, the Phil McBand band and Weston Shick.

Weston is a young man, 25 years old, who stays busy with his talents. He’s a musician who plays several instruments in different bands in town.

In this case, the little narrow eatery, The Walrus sets aside a tiny part of the front for the music. The place fills up quickly when good jam bands, bluegrass, blues or jazz bands are playing.

It’s cold outside, but the entertainment is hot inside.  When it’s hot outside as in the summer, live music becomes a bit more rare.

Do you see an increase in live music options in the winter where you live?

November 12 Main Act

Sue DaBaco and Wise Fools

Sue DaBaco and the Wise Fools, a magical blues band, three musicians with wicked licks and hard-driving mojo — the main act on this night. The group followed Charlie Horse and took the crowd in to the deep end of the blues waters of the blues pool.

The drummer never quit. He opened the show, alone and never stopped sometimes sliding in to the percussive harmony of others, sometimes taking the spotlight. Never stopping.  Never even breaking a sweat as far as I could tell.

Again, the luxury of up close photography at the Doublewood Inn ballroom, courtesy of Steamer Productions, and I got a taste of how good it would be to do this for a living, for a full-time gig.  To get to work AND play at the same time.

Sue DaBaco is an amazing gutsy blues singer and guitar player.  She makes that Fender Strat scream the way it was meant to scream, melodic and precise.

Her energy is mesmerizing.  She loses herself in her performance,  in not only the tune she plays but the words she sings.

Frankly, I was almost afraid of her until after the show when I visited with her.  She is real. She is friendly and humble.  I joy to know.  Since then, I have extended the communication (via FaceBook) and have learned she’s a woman with a friendly spirit, quick humor and a deep passion for victims of ethnic and genocidal atrocities such as the Holocaust.  She’s one smart woman, pursing higher education in her field of sociology.

Her sideman, bassist Scott Walters is a Green Bay Packers Fan — of course since he comes from Wisconsin as does the rest of the band.  I mention that because he too is a real human, and not some arrogant untouchable icon on stage.  Like the drummer, Scott can shine as a soloist or as a bridge between rhythm and percussion.  He’s a fanatic about bass guitar player legends, not only studying them but adding his own technique to the stylings he has picked up from others.

On this night, North Dakota was treated to the sound that biker bars, blues clubs and other venues in Milwaukee and other populated midwestern cities get to hear more regularly.    For my taste, we out here in North Dakota don’t get enough exposure to such music.

I’m fortunate to be able to capture the sight.  Now, to get the sound, that’s up top you.

November 12 warm up act

Charlie Horse

Two bands, back to back — a frequent occurrence anywhere but in Bismarck.  Here, you’re lucky to get one band playing one time in one venue.  But thanks to Steamer Productions, Charlie Horse, a local blues band opened the night at the Doublewood Ballroom.

I’m generally pretty amazed by the local talent, people who have day jobs but come out at night to show their artistic creative side — a side that remains hidden during the day as print shop printers, mechanics, cooks and teachers.  Charlie Horse is one of those hidden talents.

I like shooting bands like this. They’re very appreciative of the attention and the respond with a general friendliness.  After all, if you’re not one of their family or friends, you probably know someone who is.  It’s a small world.

As a fledgling musician photographer, I like the freedom I’m afforded to get up close, get behind and get down in front of the band to get the photos I like.  None of which I’m allowed to do with big-name acts.  But who knows, just like they have a day job, so do I.  Just like they’d like to make it full-time in the music circuit, so would I be able to make it full-time shooting musical acts.  I guess that’s on my (gut) bucket list.