It was a proud day for Rochester. Our own purple bush, the lilac, was designated New York's official state bush! Actually, the deed was signed into law last year, but only now are they getting around to setting up a plaque or something in Highland Park, home of 1200 lilac bushes and the annual Lilac Festival, which started May 11.
Of course, these heady days were not just for us. Somewhere in the state, someone is hoohawing over the new state reptile (snapping turtle) and state saltwater fish, (striped bass) which join the already established state flower (rose), tree (maple), insect (ladybird), and bird (bluebird, though it ought to be robin).
Only the Whitepebble Religious Institute was less than ecstatic. Its very own Tom Pearlsandswine was named state religious nut. Former member Tom Barfendogs was named state sorehead. Is this a great place to live or what?
It actually is a great place to live, notwithstanding local cynics who so ridiculed city officials' slogan "Rochester: Made for Living," substituting "leaving" for "living," that said officials had to dream up a new slogan. Still, Rochester ranks high among metropolitan areas for quality of life. Some thinktank in Virginia just gave our town 6th overall place. (Pittsburgh was #1) The job picture is distressed and the weather is an abomination, but other areas look good.
Each year the Lilac Festival heralds, if not the beginning of summer, at least the day when you can, with reasonable confidence, put away the snow shovel. It's been around as long as I can remember and each year becomes more popular. Highland Drive bisects the park into one area devoted to lilacs, gardens, and the reservoir, and a second devoted to concerts, food tents and vendors. It's really too early weatherwise for an outdoor festival, but since it's tied to the lilacs, what can you do? You can pray all you want, but you can't tell them when to bloom.
This year the weather has been glorious, and as always, I've made it down there for some of the concerts. Different musicians are featured all day long, from high school talent on the weekdays, to upcoming local talent and national acts on evenings and weekends. Herman's Hermits appeared a couple years ago, Teddy Geiger last year, John Sebastian and Sally Taylor (talented offspring of James Taylor and Carly Simon) in years before that.
So far this year, the highlight for me is Maria Muldaur. Ms Muldaur is seen on the Bob Dylan DVD "No Direction Home" as a much younger performer in Greenwich Village, where Bob also hung out. She plays with some sort of washboard band, her hair parted in two absurdly long braids. I later discovered she was the artist behind "Midnight at the Oasis." (1974)
If you imagined she was a one-hit wonder, well....that makes two of us. But it turns out she has cut 31 albums since. And her "hit" is not typical of her overall music, it's bland in comparison. Most of her material, at least what she played at the Festival, is more bluesy and vaudeville. I swear that woman knocked birds out of the trees with some high notes. She knows how to entertain. She wallops out a blues number that just wouldn't end, interrupting herself for asides, for audience chit chat, for banter with the other band members, (great performers, all, the Scintillating Papas) in a performance bringing the audience to its feet. "I don't know if you could tell, but I milked that one a little," she conceded afterwards.