Friday, February 25, 2011

Banjo Fever

^ beautiful packaging for Ernie Ball tenor banjo strings

So if we haven't spoken in a while, you may not be aware that I have banjo fever. I'm mildly obsessed. I'm not necessarily interested in the banjo you may know (though I have to respect Steve Martin), rather its lesser-known practices. I am currently set on learning to play jazz banjo. Yes, that's a real thing.

If all goes well, I will one day match the style of Eddy Davis, a banjo genius located in NYC. I don't throw out the term genius lightly with Mr. Davis. He's been playing his entire life, and has truly mastered the instrument. Eddy's played with some of the greats, including Woody Allen, Patti LaBelle, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Goodman, Jabbo Smith.

(Eddy is absolutely captivating. It was so difficult to choose just one video - more here.)

There are also other forms of banjo you may not know of. How about the cello banjo? Here's an amazing video of Bach's Cello Suite no. 3 performed on a self-made cello banjo, by Robby Faverey. While cello banjos don't tend to look like this, the music is just beautiful.

Now if you want to get SUPER hipster, there is also such a thing as a banjo ukelele. That one's not really my cup of tea. But hey, now you know more about the banjo than you ever wanted to. You're welcome.

A couple of lovely young girls were walking down a country road when they heard a voice calling,"Girls, girls, help me please."
They looked around and saw that the voice was coming from a frog sitting in a puddle at the side of the road. One of the girls picked up the frog and said,"How can we help you?"
"I am really a handsome, successful banjo player who was turned into a frog by a wicked witch. If I am kissed by a girl, I'll turn back into a banjo player and will take her on tour with me throughout this land."
The girl quickly thrust the frog into her pocket. Her friend asked,"What are you doing? Aren't you gonna kiss him?"
"Heck no," said the first girl,"He's worth way more as a talking frog."

- via Jim Yates on Banjo Hangout

Yes, Banjo Hangout.

Friday, January 28, 2011

2011: Year of the Rabbit

2010, Year of the Tiger

2011, Year of the Rabbit

While I'm a tiger myself, I'm happy to welcome the year of the rabbit today! Supposedly things will be slowing down this year, which should be a nice break from the intensity of 2010. It'll be all about home and family, keeping the peace. I'm down for that.

The sketches above are just some initial drawings I did for a project last year. They didn't end up being right for the piece, but I still thought they were fun. And today, very relevant! [Hint: There's a reason for the two colors.]

Happy Chinese New Year! May good luck ensue!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sugar Land is a Real Place

In the first conversations that I have with someone, I can expect an interesting reaction to the following truths:

1) My name is Stefanie, spelled with an f.
2) Last name Pepping.
3) I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas.

That last one is usually the kicker. If the person hasn't smiled yet, by now they can't help it. I'm often met with disbelief, to which I reply, "No, really! There's even a movie about it. Sugarland Express, Goldie Hawn, 1974. Google it." This is inevitably followed by some crack about Candy Land, or how sweet the women must be. (And we are.)

Sugar Land grew around the original Imperial Sugar Factory, built in 1843. I remember spending field trips at that factory, and let me tell you something, you would be surprised at how terrible the smell is in a place that makes sugar. Alas, the building has been empty for a while now, and was demolished a few months ago to make room for residential and business development. (Destroying a landmark that precedes the town itself? Bad move.)

Sugar Land is now one of the fastest growing cities in Texas, named the third best city to live in in the U.S. by CNN in 2006. The current population is over 79,943, and growing. Since my family moved there around 1990, they've built a mall, a movie theater, an ice rink, shopping centers with places like Williams Sonoma and the Cheesecake Factory, places for nightlife, etc. Houses continue to pop up, fields continue to disappear, and traffic gets worse every year. One of the newest additions, believe it or not, is the Sugar Land Town Square. Most Texas towns start out with a square. They did it a little bit backwards.

Sugar Land is not home to the country band Sugarland. Nope, not at all. However, the prison did house a favorite new discovery, folk/blues legend Lead Belly. Professor Terry Morrow turned me on to him today. With a style similar to that of Son House, his music will take you back to the old south. In a good way.

Black Betty, lyrics possibly in reference to the Texas penitentiary transfer wagon

Let's get real, Sugar Land is a pretty strange place. Growing up there, I called it "The Bubble." I felt suffocated by the overwhelming sense of suburbia. Every store was forced to have the same tan brick color and same white type, trees grew in straight lines, houses could only be painted certain colors, and when I would visit a friend's house down the lane, chances were one in three that the layout would be the spitting image of mine. Nothing was allowed to be unique. Not only that, my family lived near the country club, where palm trees lined the streets and houses were big enough to be hotels. My high school parking lot was filled with shiny new Hummers, Mercedes, Lexuses (Lexi?), etc. At times it was completely ridiculous and I just wanted to pull my hair out.

In spite of the way I felt about it back then, I have developed a sense of pride in the place. It is actually very pretty, almost dream-like. The streets are lined with trees that were planted when I was a kid, now full-grown and lush. The crime rate is very low, and the people in the community are generally active and good-natured. When I visit home, I feel safe. Sometimes that's a pretty great feeling.

So to the skeptics, Sugar Land is a real place.

Other interesting facts:

Sugar Land has held the title of Fittest City in Texas for four consecutive years now.

The Sugar Land Town Square used the 3D projection technology used in the 2010 Olympics on New Year's Eve 2009. That's right, we're ahead of the game.

Sugar Land is unique in that it boasts the highest concentration of Asians in Texas, 34% of the population.

The climate is described as "humid subtropical." Winter temperatures average in the 60s.