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

Street Life

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.

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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.


Photo Gallery: Street Life Edition

A customer buys a 'HOWL' bumper-sticker in City Lights Books in San Francisco's North Beach. As a symbol of the Beat Generation, the bookstore is a city landmark that attracts visitors from all over the globe.

 


Where to eat in North Beach…and read some interesting poetry, for free.

I’ve now spent more time in North Beach than any other neighborhood this year except Lake Merritt in Oakland, (which will always win- it’s where I live), and I’m really loving what I’ve been discovering.

The most pleasant surprise I encountered was Don Pisto’s, an upscale Mexican restaurant practically concealed in an otherwise plain looking building on Union Street above Columbus. There is no name on the front of the restaurant, just a small menu with short plat descriptions, prices, and the address and phone number. Here, Pete, the owner, welcomes you to come in, sit down, and make yourself at home. Pete dresses casually, belying the classiness of the restaurant and complexity of the dishes. Food at Don Pisto’s is what you’d expect from a Mexican restaurant, but in name only. They have tacos, tostadas, tortilla soup and other such staples, but all their dishes contain subtle riffs on the average Mexican food tune. Their burger, marinated overnight in bacon and sauteed onions, was recently ranked #10 on 7×7 Magazine’s “Top 100 things to to try before you die 2011” list. Adam and Niño staff the busy kitchen, while Nick directs patrons to tables, makes cocktails, rings up bills and pops beer caps. Nick is also a vintner, and recently made his first cabernet, which he sells to restaurants throughout the city.

You can most easily find the restaurant by walking up Union from Columbus and looking to your left for the small Kingdom Cake window, then continuing up Union another 75 feet or so. But don’t pass Kingdom Cake too quickly. Their locally-baked cupcakes draw rave reviews from customers, and Myles, the resident cupcake slinger will happily talk to you at length about San Francisco and the Giants, (although probably not in that order).

Elvis Christ, a local personality/poet/artist has also put his stamp on the ‘hood with his clever sayings that put strange twists on well-known sayings. Here are some photos of his work, which I found at the corner of Grant and Vallejo.

Until next time friends, leave the flying to me!


Photo Gallery: Out & About