Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla

The forest of microphones stopped me from getting many photos of Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla.

Rhiannon Giddens plays the fiddle and has tremendous vocal power, which may have something to do with her past as an opera singer – and showed no sign of flagging despite being more than a little pregnant. Here she's singing Ethel Waters' No Man's Mama, a song from the 1920's celebrating divorce, as well as a tremendous set in Gaelic as Dom Flemons' plays the drum in the background.

One great thing about seeing the Drops in concert is that they take time to explain the songs, the instruments, and the history of both. In the final photo long-term touring Cellist Leyla McCalla is translating the lyrics for Rosemarie, which she sings in Haitian Creole while playing the banjo.

Dom Flemons

Dom Flemons clowns around during Briggs' Corn Shucking Jig / Camptown Hornpipe. He and Hubby Jenkins both play the bones during this number, duelling-banjo style, while Rhiannon Giddens does the hard work on a minstrel banjo whose design – like the songs – dates back to the mid-1800's.

Bones are pretty much what they sound like, as far as a description goes; as for the actual sound, it's something of a cross between spoons and castanets. They're the rhythm section for most of the Drop's songs, and go way back to minstrel shows and jug bands for their popularity.

Hubby Jenkins

I have to confess that I only have a rough grasp of the set list, but as best as I can figure it out:

Playing the bones, Po' Black Sheep;

Playing guitar for a song I didn't recognize;

Playing on the guitar for Rosemarie;

Five-string banjo, Sourwood Mountain.

All of the members – and guest – of the Carolina Chocolate Drops play multiple instruments, and everyone sung lead on at least one song.


Read 'Em John

Rhiannon Giddens

Hubby Jenkins

Dom Flemons

Leyla McCalla

The chronology of blogs is always a little strange, so I'm going to jump to the end first.

The Drops closed the show with "Read Em John", which is on their latest album, 'Leaving Eden'. I was planning on just using this post to show all four members (although technically, cellist Leyla McCalla is a long-term guest) without their various instruments. But in checking to make sure I had the title right – I never know where apostrophes go – I found a couple of other details.

The song is performed as a call-and-response number, in the style known as a "ring shout". According to Smithsonian Folkways, "[t]he ring shout has African origins, but as the tradition formed during slavery, it also contains strong elements of Christian belief." Dom Flemons would start the call, and the others would respond, while clapping in a complex and layered rhythm.

Calwell and Ivory writes in their notes about the song (PDF):

"Read ‘Em, John is from a body of historic repertoire known as ring shouts, which was in use on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia during the time of slavery. Traditionally, the form was characterized by call-and-response singing, polyrhythmic percussion (canes striking wooden floors and hand clapping)…"

"Read ‘Em, John has its own interesting textual history. For years, the assumption was that “John” referred to the biblical figure John, author of the book of Revelation. Recently, another theory has surfaced. “John” represents a select group of slaves who had somehow learned to read. The “letter” which “John” places on the table is actually the Emancipation Proclamation. The community commands John to “read ‘em” simply because he is the one who can. The ability to read therefore becomes a vehicle for the delivery of freedom."

Not a bad way to end the show.

The Drops

I spent Thursday afternoon, September 27th, hanging out in Buffalo, New York. The goal of the trip was a concert by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but I still used the afternoon and late evening for taking photos. I'll get to the city photos eventually, but I've been going through the concert photos first.

The Chocolate Drops have a couple of obvious differences between themselves and the bluegrass bands that I listen to. First of all, they're not bluegrass: in the centre-stage background you'll see a drum. They're largely playing traditional music that reaches back a half-century or more – one pair of songs are from a song book published a hundred and fifty-seven years ago – with a particular emphasis on carrying on the African-American traditions around the fiddle and banjo.

But even within their historical emphasis, they play a good variety of material. Lyrics are sung in Scottish Gaelic and Haitian Creole, and in my opinion their covers of "Hit Em Up Style" (Blu Cantrell) and "You Be Illin" (Run DMC) are legitimately better than hearing Johnny Cash singing "Personal Jesus".


September Sun

My little infrared camera doesn't get out much, but it's nice to have in the collection. The FZ18 is showing its age, though, and the battery doesn't hold its charge for very long.

I have to admit that after using it for a few days, and remembering why I like it, I found myself pricing out the options to get an as-yet-unpurchased m4/3 camera converted to see outside of the normal spectrum. It's just an idle thought for now, and will probably stay that way for a very long time, but it seems like an interesting option.



One from my walk with Bill – developed from raw this time, but I didn't break out the DxO Optics for the hard-core processing on it. Yet. At the very least, it would remove the vignetting that's darkening the sky. At f/4. Ah, the incomparable 60/2.8G Micro.

One side effect of posting sets and series of photos to this site is that vertical framing doesn't suit the format. I still take them, but I have to admit that I don't do it as often as I might.


The Animals of Cabbagetown

I use two almost comically similar lenses: a 60/2.8G macro and a 50/1.4G fast prime.

With such similar focal lengths I choose between them based on the look that I want to have. The fifty is for f/4 and faster, and the sixty takes f/5.6 to f/11. Not that it's a strict division, of course – I just do that when most of the photos are likely to be within that range. Otherwise that would be weird or something.

All of these were taken with the fifty at f/1.4, where the lens is nowhere near its optical prime, but it certainly has its own look. It's fun on film, too.

Distillery 2012

There's something about Toronto's Distillery District that just cries out for extreme post-processing. These are from the D800, processed from jpegs for bonus points.

Rush Lane

Except for the first one I have absolutely no idea what these are trying to say.

I spent an excellent day on saturday showing my friend Bill around the city – or at least the little parts of it that have been important to me over the past several years.

All of these are only lightly edited jpegs from my D800. I reserve the right to go back to the raw files in a week or two to see what I can pull out of them.

Honest Signs

Three signs photographed inside Honest Ed's. While I'm not inside the store very often, I certainly don't remember seeing these before. I was amused.

(All photos from my Canon S100's raw files, which are only slightly more malleable than my D800's jpegs.)

Three Locals

Three photos from a Saturday afternoon spent showing off the neighbourhood.

(All images are lightly edited jpegs from my D800.)


Waterfall Five and Six

I can tell that summer is ending when I'm out after dark. The first photo is a fifteen second exposure with my little Canon S100, while the second is a one-second exposure that used flash to freeze the action.


Waterfall Three and Four

Yes, these are two different waterfalls, but they're part of the same fountain. It's my favourite one to photograph, since the water is shallow and clear.


Waterfall One and Two

It's September and my little waterproof camera has stayed unusually dry this year. Perhaps that's why it feels like summer has flown by.

I have broken the links to hundreds and hundreds of photos, which will take a long time to repair. The workaround is to replace "photo.matthewpiers" in the link URL with "matthewpiers.smugmug". Awkward, but only temporary.

This is happening because I have revamped matthewpiers dot com. More of what I write and photograph will be going there, so check it out as well.

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