A multimedia-enhanced photoblog about San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood

Music

The Famous Green Street Mortuary Band, and my problems with video

The Green Street Mortuary Band is kind of a big deal. The band has been around in some form or another since 1911, but bandleader Lisa Pollard has been in charge for the last 20, during which time the band has tripled or quadrupled the number of funerals they’re hired for, according to Pollard. She credits this increase in business to the quality and professionalism of the band’s musicians as well as the positive word-of-mouth they’ve had over the years. Currently the band is one of only a handful left in the country, but far surpasses the others in terms of business and fame.

On Saturday I headed to North Beach to capture this legendary band on video for one of my SFSU journalism classes. I am by no means a videographer- stills have always been my thing- but I thought, “how hard can it be?” I figured I’d get some close-ups of the instruments, some footage of the band marching, some footage of spectators reacting, a few sit-down interviews and voila! Sure, I knew that DSLR video has no stabilization and is super sensitive, that the autofocus is terrible and that the audio leaves a lot to be desired.

But I told myself that my hands were steadier than most, that my movements would be mimicking the band members’ themselves, and that it would be a nightmare to sync up audio recorded with another recorder with video of the band playing. And that last one is probably true, but anything would have been better than the built-in mic on my 5D Mark II.

I abandoned, (too late in my opinion), the built-in autofocus and went full manual with my focusing. I don’t trust my eyes for focusing, especially with the small screen, but I quickly learned that it was the most attractive option for recording video. While that lesson came late, it came in time to get some decently focused footage.

I was not so lucky with audio, or with motion. A monopod or tripod may not be essential when standing still, (it turns out my hands ARE pretty steady—when I’m not moving), but for panning, even from a fixed location, would benefit IMMENSELY from a ball-headed monopod or tripod. Uggghhhh. I am SO not doing that again.

The 5D II is a fantastic camera for video, and with some tweaks to my methods and toolkit I should be able to maneuver the medium with only minor problems. However, without way more expensive gear, it simply is not a camera you can walk around with while videoing.

My negative experiences boiled down to three lessons learned. Use an external mic OR use your own audio recorder, bring a tripod/monopod, and always, always, use manual focusing.

I hope yo’ve learned something from my video and my experiences.

Until next time, leave the flying to me.


Kitty McMuffin, the lustiest lady, turns 30!

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Kitty McMuffin, who loyal readers may remember from my previous post about The Lusty Lady, turned 30 on Saturday, and celebrated it with a big birthday bash and burlesque show (say THAT three times fast) at Mojito in North Beach on Sunday. Feeling a sense of obligation to cover the event, your loyal blogger grudgingly headed to SF to get the low-down.

I’m kidding, of course. I had been promised burlesque, live music, lots of spankings, (not on my tush thankyouverymuch), and a bacon skirt in the vein of Josephine Baker, so I was primed and excited for the night.

It started at 7, and built up steam as Kitty’s coworkers slowly trickled in over the next few hours. The liquor was flowing, served up with a smile by Stuart, the friendly fauxhawk-styled bartender.

As the night wore on, the birthday fun began. First came the live music, which featured Kitty on background vocals, (while she just meowed over and over again, it was her energy and enthusiasm that made her performance memorable), before the “birthday presents” were administered- in the form of many, many spankings. (Followed by kisses on all the places where she had boo-boos, naturally.)

A birthday strip-tease by the Lusty’s own Princess, (followed by more spankings, of course, this time with a leather riding crop), was the culmination of the first round of entertainment, but Kitty still had that bacon skirt waiting upstairs for the most loyal of attendees.

She put it on and came sashaying down the stairs to resounding cheers and catcalls from the audience. She did a bit of a strip-tease herself, (pasties made her show, as with Princess’, PG-13- alcohol was, after all, being served), before tearing off the skirt and feeding her fans and friends pieces, one at a time, until everyone’s appetites were sated.

Or were they…..if yours wasn’t you can always find her at the Lusty Lady, in a more intimate setting. ; )

Until next time, leave the flying to me.


Saint Patrick’s Day at O’Reilly’s Irish Pub in North Beach

Sara Dobra and Mike Chen kiss at the annual O'Reilly's Irish Pub St. Patrick's Day block party in North Beach.

O’Reilly’s Irish Pub in North beach takes Saint Patrick’s Day seriously. Well, not THAT seriously. Judging by the band lineup, the size of the crowd, the general level of intoxication, and all the smiles I saw, it sure seemed like people were having fun at the 16th Annual OReilly’s Irish Pub St. Patrick’s Day Block Party. Genuinely Irish and Irish-for-a-day attendees intermingled along a fenced-off portion of Green Street in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, where O’Reilly’s Irish Pub has been an alcohol-slinging staple since it opened 16 years ago.

The party began at 2pm on St. Patrick’s Day, and early comers are rewarded with free entrance—but drag your feet and arrive after 3pm and you’ll have to pony up $10 to get in on the Irish action. This year’s musical performers included The Hooks, who make “Super catchy Irish-influenced rock,” according to Funcheap SF, Irish fiddler Colm O’Riain, SCream (a Clapton/Cream cover band, get it?), and Lunar Groove.

Deirdre Black, who’s actually Irish (as in, from-Ireland-with-the-full-on-accent-Irish, not just by-ancestry-Irish) has worked at O’Reilly’s (and the block party) since the pub opened. Asked to describe the strangest thing she’d seen, she noted that “there’s nothing that shocking on St. Patrick’s Day.” Mostly all she sees are “people putting on beards and painting them orange, and shamrock tattoos, and flag of Ireland tattoos, and some people painting their bodies green.” Black says it’s just about having fun and dancing.

Black estimated that “a few thousand” people attended the block party this year.

Out of consideration for the neighborhood and the neighbors, (especially since St. Paddy’s Day didn’t fall on a weekend this year), the music stopped at midnight. But until then, it was all the drinking, dancing, and merriment the revelers could handle. “According to the police, O’Reilly’s was the example other bars should take [in terms of] the security, the safety, everything,” said Black.

As noted above, the block party is an annual event, so if you’re Irish and/or love public intoxication/Irish music/the color green/bagpipes/leprechauns, be sure to show up early next year (and put that $10 towards your alcohol tab).

Until next time, leave the flying to me!


Photo Gallery: Out and About, Take II

Danny Bobbi plays his trumpet for tips at the corner of Columbus and Green in San Francisco's North Beach.


Happy V-Day from Leonard Cohen

Wherever you are, and whomever you’re with, these are still words of wisdom on this day that now seems dedicated to chocolate, stuffed bears and the trite commercialization of the deep, ancient, indescribable, unquantifiable emotional bond between two people, (or directed at someone).

Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

– Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem

Until next time, leave the flying to me!


Photo Gallery: Out & About


First Impressions of North Beach

 

A woman dances to the blues at The Saloon in North Beach

An unidentified woman dances to blues belted out by Jamie and the Jukes at The Saloon in North Beach.

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My first impressions of North Beach were not entirely positive. I drove down Montgomery, before turning left onto Columbus, driving up the hill and past the famous City Lights bookstore, and the strip clubs on Broadway. The City Lights bookstore helped to define not only North Beach at a specific era in time, but also San Francisco as a city, and destination for writers and poets and creative types. Many of the store’s patrons were likely instrumental in paving the way for the social and political changes of the ’60’s.

The City Lights bookstore did not give me a negative impression about the neighborhood. But all the other businesses arrayed up Columbus did. Italian restaurants, delis, cafes, bakeries and gelato hole-in-the-walls lined both sides of the street for blocks. Places with names like Colisseo, Steps of Rome, Calzone’s Pizza Cucina and Trattoria Pinocchio.

It seemed like the business owners just chose easy names that pandered to Americans’ stereotypical preconceptions of Italy and Italians. I may not be Italian, but I couldn’t help but be a little offended.

I parked in front of Caffe Trieste, a block off of Columbus, where a group of men sat outside engaged in lively conversation. Inside, people were using laptops, sipping coffee, and speaking quietly in small groups. In short, it felt like any other coffee shop in the city. Which was refreshing, normal, expected. Non-offensive.

I sat and had a sandwich at Molinari Delicatessen, where two young hispanic men and an elderly Italian man served up a line of eager, hungry sandwich-seekers, all holding bread in their hands, patiently waiting for their number to be called.

A wide selection of cheeses filled the display cases, salames and meats hung from the ceiling, and canned, pickled, and commercial Italian foods were stacked so high against the walls that a stepladder was necessary to reach the highest items.

While I sat and ate outside, I watched the people passing. It was Monday afternoon, and foot traffic was substantially less than I had experienced on another visit the previous thursday night. Some locals passed by, obvious in their localness through their engaged conversation, quick, purposeful stride, and less-casual dress. A man walked up to Molinaris in a beat-up old grey suit, talking very loudly to himself. Almost nobody paid him any attention.

A prosciutto di parma sandwich later, I was wandering back up Columbus, keeping my eyes peeled for the interesting, unusual, or just plain weird.

I found interesting in short order. Z. Cioccolato, a candy store, attracted me through it’s bright, bold colors and assorted candies. Smelling a photo opportunity I entered to look around.

Individually-wrapped candies overflowed from big, metal-banded barrels. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I spoke to the owner, Mark, who shared that he used to be a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News before moving to San Francisco, where he “married into” the candy-store business. He took me to the back room and showed me the fudge-making facilities, where two young men, (one an SFSU broadcasting and engineering major) worked staggered 8-hour shifts making their famous fudges (65 different kinds), and chocolate candies.

Mark hasn’t stopped taking photos though- he still takes all the product photos for the catalog and website, and has some photos of a toy robot on the walls of the shop.

At night, North Beach comes alive. Young locals flock to bars off Columbus like Grant and GreenThe Saloon, and even the King of Thai noodle house and bar- a local secret where you can get $5 Thai food and $2 pints.

A more upscale, non-local crowd seeks out the restaurants on Columbus mentioned earlier in this post, while locals and tourists of all ages (well, not quite ALL ages) visit the strip clubs on Broadway.

North Beach is a diverse neighborhood that changes drastically in price, crowd, atmosphere, and clientele from block to block.

I look forward to discovering more of the neighborhood’s secrets as the semester progresses.