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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


This comes from John Baldwin's Desolation Row e-newsletter today:

Bob Dylan will release a brand new album of holiday songs, Christmas In The Heart, on Tuesday, October 13, it was announced today by Columbia Records. All of the artist’s U.S. royalties from sales of these recordings will be donated to Feeding America, guaranteeing that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need in this country during this year’s holiday season. Bob Dylan is also donating all of his future U.S. royalties from this album to Feeding America in perpetuity.

Additionally, the artist is partnering with two international charities to provide meals during the holidays for millions in need in the United Kingdom and the developing world, and will be donating all of his future international royalties from Christmas In The Heart to those organizations in perpetuity. Details regarding the international partnerships will be announced next week.

“When we reached out to Bob Dylan about becoming involved with our organization, we could never have anticipated that he would so generously donate all royalties from his forthcoming album to our cause,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. “This major initiative from such a world renowned artist and cultural icon will directly benefit so many people and have a major impact on spreading awareness of the epidemic of hunger in this country and around the world.”

Bob Dylan commented, “It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone -- 12 million of those children – often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.”

Christmas In The Heart will be the 47th album from Bob Dylan, and follows his worldwide chart-topping Together Through Life, released earlier this year. Songs performed by Dylan on this new album include, 'Here Comes Santa Claus,' 'Winter Wonderland,' 'Little Drummer Boy' and 'Must Be Santa.'

Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to more than 25 million Americans each year, including 9 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks supports 63,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms.

So. I owe Bob Dylan an apology for going along with various commentators to this blog in assuming that Christmas In The Heart was going to be another commercial move on his part. I still think the title is gooey, and that Together Through Life is a specious, soppy title too - but the fact that this blog was tut-tutting about motives we knew nothing about shows me that maybe I should just shut up about Bob Dylan for a while. So I shall.

I thank all those readers who have shown support for my work, especially those who've been with me for the long haul. I'm going to take a break from all this blogging and maybe I can remember to be more circumspect when I resume it. Meanwhile, er, Silent Night...

Friday, August 21, 2009


photo © Ron Lowe, 2009
Sign outside local restaurant near our house.
Its lunchtime menu du jour = four courses plus wine, €12.

Which, er, reminds me: there is still a little availability for our
(one is fully booked and two others almost so).

I see that Bob Dylan's Christmas album is to be released in early October; by the time these February to March weekends come around, I wonder if we'll be discussing the joy and wonder of Bob's Christmas of the Heart. Or why his album titles are getting so gooey. First Together Through Life and now Christmas of the Heart. They sound like Johnny Mathis LPs. Either I'm too sensitive or else he's gettin' soft.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Willie McTell May 5 (?) 1903 - August 19, 1959
photo taken inside the Robert Fulton Hotel, November 5, 1940
by Ruby T. Lomax
(photo c/o the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division)

Sunday, August 16, 2009


The great Jim Dickinson died yesterday (Saturday 15 August), aged 67. A properly music-based report is here.

And as it says in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (p.481) Dickinson said he'd been a Dylan fan for 35 years before he got to play on a Dylan record, namely Time Out Of Mind, on which he played piano, Wurlitzer electric piano and pump organ, appearing on every track except 'Standing In The Doorway', 'Cold Irons Bound' and 'Make You Feel My Lurve'. And according to Daniel Lanois (Harp Magazine, May 2003), Bob said to him,"If you've got Dickinson, you don't need anybody else."

Jim Dickinson was also the first to point out that the cover of Together Through Life uses the same shot as Big Bad Love, a book of short stories by Mississippi writer Larry Brown, of whose work Dylan told Dickinson he had "read every word". (Dickinson was also a friend of the splendid Georgia-based writer Stanley Booth, whose collection Rythm Oil is tremendous. And both men knew and helped Furry Lewis and Sleepy John Estes back in Memphis...)

I note that Jim Dickinson died on the 25th anniversary of the death of Norman Petty, a crucial figure in the studio for another white southern blues/country/rock crossover artist, the late great Buddy Holly.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


As you may know, 2009 is the 50th anniversary year of Blind Willie McTell's death. He died in the early morning of August the 19th (1959) in Milledgeville State Hospital. He was 56 years old.

More by chance than good planning, the North American edition of my biography of him (Hand Me My Travelin Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell) will be published on September 1. Chicago Review Press hardback, ISBN

I shall be doing a promotional stomp round a few bits of the USA - mainly in Willie's home state of Georgia - in October. I'm organising this now, and so far these are the firm dates:

OCT 8, 11am - Farmingdale State College, Long Island NY
Ward Hall Great Room, 2350 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale NY 11735-1021
free admission, general public welcome

OCT 15, 7pm - The Douglass Theatre, Macon GA
355 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Macon GA. 31201
tickets $15 (seniors & students $12) from box office / phone: (478) 742-2000

OCT 23, 7pm - Averitt Arts Center, Statesboro GA
33 East Main Street, Statesboro GA 30458
tickets $18 from the box office or by phone: (912) 212-2787

I'm hoping that between Oct 8 and Oct 22 I can arrange a further sequence of talks in Georgia, in the other places that were significant for Willie - Atlanta, Athens, Thomson, Milledgeville and maybe Augusta. The talk will include playing records and slideshows of both vintage photos and photos I took while researching the book. If anyone has contacts at, or good suggestions for, best venues in any of these places, please let me know by posting a comment to this blog. All blog comments get moderated - ie I read them before deciding either to publish them or not - so any information you send me this way can be sent privately and in confidence if you'd like it to be. Many thanks.

PS. I'm also doing two final performances of Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues in the autumn: one at a book festival in Cumbria, England in late September and the other at the university in Statesboro the night before the McTell talk at the Averitt:

SEP 25, 7.45pm - Sedbergh Book Town Book Festival, Cumbria
details tba

OCT 22, 7pm - Georgia Southern University, Statesboro GA
details tba

Friday, August 14, 2009


Nice story about Bob in Long Branch, New Jersey in today's online Telegraph:
'Eccentric old man' Bob Dylan picked up by police
The police were so young they'd never even seen a picture of Vincent Price.

Monday, August 10, 2009


photo from Frank Driggs Collection; scanned from
p.91 of The Art of Bob Dylan: Song & Dance Man (UK 1981 & US 1982)

Leo Fender was born 100 years ago today in Anaheim, California. Here's the rather good entry about him from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website:

It’s safe to say there would be no such thing as rock and roll without its distinctive instrumentation. To put it another way, rock and roll as we know it could not exist without Leo Fender, inventor of the first solid-body electric guitar to be mass-produced: the Fender Broadcaster. Fender’s instruments - which also include the Stratocaster, the Precision bass (the first electric bass) and some of the music world’s most coveted amplifiers - revolutionized popular music in general and rock and roll in particular.

Leo Fender was born in 1909 near Anaheim, California, not far from the future site of his guitar factory. He was an electronics enthusiast and radio repairman who got involved with guitar design after guitar-playing customers kept bringing him their external pickups for repair. Before Fender came along, guitarists met their amplification needs by attaching pickups to the surface of their hollow-bodied instruments. While the question of who designed the first successful solid-body guitar is still being debated, Fender was the first to successfully design and market such an instrument with the introduction of the Broadcaster in 1948. Renamed the Telecaster two years later, Fender’s creation remains a mainstay of country and rock musicians who like its clean, biting sound.

His Precision bass, introduced in 1950, brought a new sound and flexibility to the rhythm section of bands, liberating the bassist from cumbersome standup instruments. The bass-driven soul music of Motown and Stax would have been inconceivable without Fender’s handiwork. In 1954, Fender introduced the Stratocaster, a flashier instrument featuring a contoured, double-cutaway body, three (as opposed to two) single-coil pickups and a revolutionary string-bending (tremolo) unit. Fender’s Strat has been the favored model of such virtuosic rock guitarists as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Meanwhile for updated Winterlude Weekends info, please go here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Bookings for our WINTERLUDE WEEKENDS next February and March are going well but there are still places available. For anyone who missed the original posting about these events and would like to know more, please see here.
(The view above was taken from one of the bedroom windows in December...)

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Photograph and YouTube performance found on

I've just learnt of yet another death, I'm sorry to say: this time of Billy Lee Riley, who, according to The Times' obituary, "played his final show in June 2009 at the Rock and Soul Museum in Memphis, by which time he had an advanced cancer" and died on August 2nd, aged 75.

Here's his (unupdated) entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Riley, Billy Lee [1933 - ]
William Lee Riley was born into a family of sharecroppers in Pocohontas, Arkansas on October 5, 1933. He was a country singer who wanted to be a blues singer but ended up in Memphis doing rockabilly for Sam Phillips at Sun from late 1956 until he left to form his own label, Rita, in 1960.
He was a session-man and multi-instrumentalist (quite good on bluesy harmonica); JERRY LEE LEWIS and Charlie Rich played piano on Riley’s records, the best-known being his 1957 titles ‘Red Hot’ and (as by Billy Lee Riley and his Little Green Men) ‘Flyin’ Saucers Rock’n’Roll’. He also revived the 1940s hit ‘Open the Door, Richard’, a title Dylan makes into the refrain of his own 1967 song ‘Open the Door, Homer’ (see separate entry).

More importantly, Riley is the man who had the gumption to turn on the tape recorder when Sam Phillips and fundamentalist bible-study boy Jerry Lee were discussing the evils of secular music at the Sun session that later yielded Lewis’ ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ (a discussion first issued on a Dutch bootleg in the 1970s), and more than a decade later he was a guest performer at ELVIS and Priscilla Presley’s New Year’s Eve Party at the Thunderbird Lounge, Memphis in 1968.
In the end he was able to cut records in every genre he liked: as one rock historian catalogued it, he ‘recorded country for Sun, Mojo, Pen, Hip, Sun International, Entrance, backwoods blues for Rita, R&B for Dodge, Checker and Hip, rock for Brunswick and Home of the Blues, and soul for Smash, Fire, Fury, Mojo and Myrl.’ He cut many of his blues sides, including ‘Repossession Blues’, under the pseudonym Lightnin’ Leon. In the 1960s he moved to LA and did session work and in the 1970s-80s toured Europe many times.

Bob Dylan sang ‘Repossession Blues’ at a rehearsal for the 1978 World Tour in Santa Monica (February 1, 1978) and subsequently twice in concert (in Osaka, February 24 and Tokyo four nights later), and he performed Riley’s ‘Rock With Me Baby’ at six US concerts in 1986.

On September 8, 1992, when Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour hit Riley’s home patch of Little Rock, Arkansas, Bob brought Billy onstage as a guest. He was introduced fulsomely by Dylan, who stayed onstage to play back-up guitar as Riley sang ‘Red Hot’. Riley went on from this heartening evening’s encounter to re-activate his own performing career. The Smithsonian interviewed him for their archives and he released his first all-blues CD, Blue Collar Blues, that same year. Now based in Newport, Arkansas, he gives combination lecture-concerts about the blues, the Mississippi Delta and his childhood as a sharecropper. He disappoints everyone who admired his work by revealing that he regards working with Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1960s as a high points of his career.

[Billy Lee Riley: ‘Flyin’ Saucers Rock’n’Roll’, Memphis, 11 Dec 1956 (w Jerry Lee Lewis), Sun 260, Memphis, 1957, reissued The Sun Story 1952-1968, Sun 6641 180, London, 1974; ‘Red Hot’, Memphis, 1957, Sun 277, Memphis, 1957; 2-CD set Classic Recordings 1956-1960, Including The Complete Sun Recordings, Bear Family BCD 15444-BH, Vollersode Germany, c.1990; Blue Collar Blues, Hightone HCD 8040, US, 1992; ‘Repossession Blues’, nia, Rita 1005, US, 1960. Lewis-Phillips discussion 1st issued Good Rocking Tonight, Bopcat LP-100, Holland, 1970s.]

And here's a pretty good committed performance of 'Red Hot' from 2003, and splendidly authentic rockabilly at that (which in my opinion puts Dylan's current level of performance energy very much to shame; likewise the keyboard player):

Meanwhile tomorrow (August 7) Dylan band member Denny Freeman turns 65.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I meant to post this item weeks ago, when it might have claimed some vicarious topicality, but because it comes from the manuscript version of the book John Bauldie and I co-edited, All Across the Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987, it's on my computer in a very old version of Word - it had started out on the green pastures of Amstrad Locoscript - but I couldn't access it until last night, when a visiting younger member of the family spent about ten seconds at my keyboard retrieving it for me. So. Almost as interesting as the preposterous story the article tells is the now-ancient nature of the technology described early on:

by John Bauldie*
revised from an article originally published in issue no. 20 of fanzine The Telegraph

Having been stunned by the Ethiopian situation and impressed by the efforts of Band Aid, the man for whom Bob Dylan played harmonica on his first-ever venture into a professional recording studio (June 1961) - Harry Belafonte - is determined to get something going in America too. He asks manager Ken Kragen for advice, and Kragen, predictably, suggests a record.

Kragen used to manage the late Harry Chapin, himself a crusader against world hunger. Now, in addition to Belafonte, Kragen manages wealthy Lionel Richie and fabulously wealthy Kenny Rogers (and therefore has a bob or two himself). Kragen puts the idea to Rogers and Richie, and both are keen to respond. The ball is rolling. By January 22nd, 1985, the song that is needed has been written, but not yet polished up, by Richie and Michael Jackson, and arrangements have been made to get something down on tape.

On January 22nd, then, in Kenny Rogers' Lion Share Recording Studio on Beverly Boulevard, there is a recording session to get the basic instrumental track down. They have six takes. When the backing is to producer Quincy Jones' satisfaction, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie have to add a guide lead vocal. The idea then is to duplicate this onto fifty cassettes, to be sent out to the invited potential performers, so that they'll be familiar with the song before the upcoming main recording-session.

On this guide-version, the lyrics aren't finished. "There's a chance we're taking/We're taking our own lives" is causing some worries. The second line sounds suicidal, the first self-congratulatory. Richie changes the second "taking" to "saving", while Jones comes up with "There's a choice we're making." This version of the song also has a chorus of gobbledegook: "sha-lum, sha-lingay." But by 1.30am this demo is wrapped up.

Two days later, the fifty cassettes are sent out to all the artists by Federal Express, which provides its delivery services free. With each cassette is a letter from Quincy Jones addressed to 'My Fellow Artists':

"The cassettes are numbered, and I can't express how important it is not to let this material out of your hands. Please do not make copies, and return this cassette the night of the 28th. In the years to come, when your children ask 'What did Mommy and Daddy do for the war against world famine?' you can say proudly that this was your contribution."

On January 25th there is an administrative meeting, with Kragen as concerned as Jones had been to stress the need for absolute secrecy:

"The single most damaging piece of information is where we're doing this. If that shows up anywhere we've got a chaotic situation that could totally destroy the project. The moment a Prince, a Michael Jackson, a Bob Dylan - I guarantee you! - drives up and sees a mob around that studio, he will never come in."

Secrecy is ensured, and Bob Dylan does come in. He arrives pretty early, soon after nine o'clock, on the evening of January 28th. Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Ray Charles are there already:

"Bob Dylan slouches in, stone-faced, and sits down in the seat closest to the door." He has just walked under Quincy Jones' sign which reads 'Please Check Your Egos At The Door'. The session is at the A& M studios, across the road from the Shrine Auditorium, where the American Music Awards ceremony is being held the same night but is due to finish at 10pm. Jones hopes to get things started soon after 11.

Few seem to have noticed the irony of tables in Studio B groaning with $15,000-worth of roast beef, tortellini, imported cheeses, fruit and delicacies: provided free by Someone's In The Kitchen Catering, but somewhat incongruous in the circumstances.

As more and more people arrive, the studio gets noisier and Dylan is not allowed to sit silent for long:

"Bruce Springsteen arrives with no entourage, no bodyguards. He simply parked his rented car across the street from the studio, breezed by security and entered the control room, where he's smothered in giggles and hugs by the Pointer Sisters. He hugs Dylan..."

After suffering the Springsteen hug perhaps Bob finds the Diana Ross hug more comfortable. Perhaps not:

"From a dramatic dipping hug with Quincy, Diana jumps into 'Bobby' Dylan's lap for a few minutes..."

Some time after 11pm, the recording begins - choruses first, so that none of the egoless stars will walk out if they find that vocal arranger Tom Bahler hasn't given them a solo vocal line in the verses. Each performer has been allocated a particular place to stand. Each name is on a piece of silver gaffer-tape on the risers. Egoless Diana Ross has been carefully allocated a place in the middle of the front row, between Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.

On the other side of Michael Jackson - between him and Paul Simon - is a space marked 'Prince'. He never shows. He'd offered to play a steaming guitar part, but was asked to do the same as everybody else. ("Fuck him. What is he? A creep" - Bob Geldof.)

After several takes of the chorus, a break is announced and the company makes for the roast beef. Video screens replay the session-so-far. LaToya Jackson (one of Michael's sisters) checks her yellow head-band and make-up. Diana Ross checks everybody's make-up. Stevie Wonder remains unimpressed.

Dylan is with Paul Simon but is confronted by Billy Joel and fiancée Christie Brinkley, who looks star-struck. She begins to babble about a new scheme - Fashion For Africa: models and designers pooling their talents to relieve world hunger. Unfortunately Billy Joel is not star-struck, and hugs Dylan.

At one in the morning, the chorus reconvenes: but there's a problem with the "sha-lum, sha-lingay" line. Stevie Wonder has had an idea. Instead of "sha-lum, sha-lingay", why not a line in Swahili? Waylon Jennings figures that no good ole boy ever sang in Swahili and leaves the studio, never to return. Bob Geldof points out that Ethiopians don't speak Swahili (more properly, they don't speak KiSwahili). Michael Jackson votes to keep the "sha-lum sha-lingay" line. But then he would, wouldn't he?: he wrote the line in the first place.

It is tried out again, but a secret and subversive coalition is forming between Paul Simon and Al Jarreau. Cyndi Lauper wants to join in. She's not sure what a subversive coalition is but it sounds like fun - specially with Al Jarreau. The manifesto is to find something meaningful to sing, preferably in English. Jarreau soon produces a meaningful new line:

"One world, our world."

Michael Jackson is stunned. He never knew that songs could be so meaningful. Nothing he ever wrote made as much sense as this new Jarreau line. But the new line's main champion becomes Cyndi Lauper, who recognises the line's depth and message:

"That's right! Aint what we're doing trying to unite the world?"

Stevie Wonder begins to sulk. Tina Turner says she prefers "sha-lum, sha-lingay" anytime. The song is eventually tried with the Jarreau line, though by this time it too has been substantially changed. Now it's "One world, our children," which Quincy Jones thinks is the best line yet. There is no information on who came up with it. Perhaps it was Quincy. To relieve his frustrations at not being allowed to sing in KiSwahili, Stevie Wonder suddenly breaks into 'The Banana Boat Song'. (This is all true.) There is later speculation that this was "a sudden tribute to Harry Belafonte, who had first suggested this benefit recording-session." 'The Banana Boat Song' proves much more popular than "One world, our children" and the whole chorus defects to singing "Day-o! Day-o!". . . Stevie Wonder cheers up.

Meanwhile Bob Geldof "draws a map of Africa on a piece of sheet music" to explain to Bruce Springsteen "the logistical difficulties" of famine relief, while Willie Nelson explains to Dylan the logistical difficulties of golf:

"...Nelson asks Bob Dylan if he plays golf. Dylan, slightly amused, replies 'No, I've heard you had to study it.' Says Willie - who has become obsessed with the game - 'You can't think of hardly anything else.'" Huey Lewis joins in this discussion with an echoing enthusiasm. Dylan remains polite. He and Willie exchange 'phone-numbers and tentatively plan to meet in Hawaii during school spring break with the kids, to start working on material for a mooted joint album.

(Perhaps at this point Willie mentions that the song Bob keeps calling 'When I Think Of Her' is actually called 'Why Do I Have To Choose?' Perhaps he asks Bob why he dropped it from the '84 tour set. Perhaps he also asks why Bob accidentally took the composer-credit for 'Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground', on the B-side of the 'Union Sundown' single.)

Willie Nelson is looking cleaner and smarter than anyone has ever seen him look before. He looks ten years younger and would pass for 62. Bob Dylan also looks fairly well-groomed, in a smart soft-leather black bomber jacket and a light-&-dark grey-checked shirt which could have come from Next For Men. Photographs are taken.

Between three and four in the morning, soloists start getting organised. Stevie Wonder introduces two Ethiopian women to the performers. Things proceed slowly.

"Where's Bobby Dylan?" yells Quincy. "Let's get Bobby in here." It is 5.30am.

Dylan is taken to Stevie Wonder for a rehearsal of his solo lines: (ahem: "There's a choice we're making/We're saving our own lives/It's true, we'll make a better day just you and me.") Stevie wants Dylan to sound like Dylan.

"Dylan is tentative. Stevie is doing a better 'Dylan' than Dylan - more whining exaggeration - and explains, 'Do it more like this'. After twenty minutes of coaching from Wonder, Dylan approaches the microphone. He barely manages a mumble. Lionel clears almost everyone out. With each successive take, Dylan gets stronger - more like himself. He asks Stevie to play the piano behind him. Quincy rushes in after the take. 'That's it. That's it. That's the statement.' Dylan, unconvinced, mutters 'That wasn't any good.' Lionel tells him: 'Trust me.' As Quincy gives him a bear hug" [of course] "and whispers 'It's great.' Dylan finally smiles. 'Well, if you say so.'"

At exactly 5.57am, Dylan's lines are played back over the monitors. Lionel Richie falls flat on his back, eyes closed, then dances awhile, waving his ladies' Reebok aerobic shoes in the air. The shoes have been manufactured in Bury, England, home of The Telegraph. One world.

"Soon after, Al Jarreau corners Dylan by the piano. He's choked up. 'Bobby', Jarreau says, holding back tears, 'in my own stupid way I just want to tell you I love you.' Dylan slinks away without even looking at him. Jarreau walks to the door of the studio, looks back at Dylan, cries 'My idol,' bursts into tears and leaves."

Then Bruce Springsteen finally moves forward to record his solo:

"'You sounded fantastic, Dylan,' he calls to Bob as he steps to the mike. Dylan leans against the wall to watch Bruce work..." Springsteen produces a flawless first take, and it's time to leave.

Dylan, who slunk away from Al Jarreau possibly fearing another hug, cannot evade a block tackle by linebacker Bette Midler. Midler, whose earlier attempts at seducing Dylan were reported in The Sun in November 1982, you'll remember (in caseyou don't, they were unsuccessful: "I got close...a couple of first bases in the front seat of his Cadillac"), is as determined as anyone to hug Bobby. This time her determination proves irresistible:

"Bette Midler hugs Dylan, tells him 'Goodnight, dearest.'"

By eight o'clock everyone is on the way home. 'We Are The World' is in the can. Some weeks later a bruised and thoroughly hugged Bob Dylan appears, improbably enough, on millions of television screens in 1985 pop music programmes all over the western world.

* This article has been almost entirely winkled out of a thorough account of the relevant events by freelance writer David Breskin in Life in April 1985, plus a tiny bit from the We Are The World book, Perigree Books, USA, 1985. I hope this explains why some paragraphs appear in quotation marks.

Monday, August 03, 2009


There's now a Paypal button embedded near the top of this blog for those who have already specified their Winterlude Weekend requirements and received an e-mail confirmation from me that they can go ahead and book.

For anyone who missed the earlier posting about these events and has no idea what I'm talking about, please see here.