{end scene]

i haven't posted consistently to this blog since 2011. 

here's a little bookend post with some current links of mine,
as of spring 2015:




(old) instagram:


bands / music:

label / archive (the ashes, wiseblood vol. 1, etc):

through the sparks (official):

through the sparks / facebook:

through the sparks / bandcamp:  

through the sparks / instagram:  

dorado / twitter: 


farrah was dancin' with a black girl named sophia / 10 years

ten years ago today, ashby and i released our girls+cars ep. this was for our band the ashes, which consumed all of our spare time from the spring of 2002 through sometime in 2006 or 2007 or 2008. it morphed into wiseblood, which also released an ep in july in 2008, although the recordings were pretty much finished in 2006.

girls+cars was the first result of my delayed adulthood / 2nd adolescence, which was brought on by the massive black void that happened after my move from phoenix to birmingham. essentially an 11 year relationship imploded, i was abandoned in the desert, and moved i with all of my shit to the deep south the week after 9/11. i pretty much emotionally checked out for a few years. by some estimates, i was neurologically altered. i decided to waste those few years playing in an indie band with no future. ashby did too, until he started law school in 2004. while he was in law school, we developed a more mature project based around the wiseblood aesthetic, and pretty much as soon as that long labored over project was released - ashby split for england for a year to study, thus ending our musical and to a general extent, our personal relationship. he's moving back to palau as i write this to assume the post as a supreme court justice.

since 03/27/03, i've been in countless bands, and i'm most certainly at the end of my time in birmingham. as soon as i finish up some design deadlines, i'm going to jump in more resolutely into my music / design archive site, which will basically be my epilogue for bham and all the music i've made here. its certainly better than phoenix or central florida, but its still really, really small.


i think maybe i'm back.

maybe i'll fill in the blanks. or start working on my archive site in earnest. anyway. i'm over facebook and everything else. i just want to write and archive and ramble.

this is something i've suspected for 15 years. the show i watched with my girlfriend in 1997 in ft. lauderdale was the longest show david bowie ever performed. 36 songs, 3 and a half hours. massively energetic. and it wasn't in an arena. it was in a 400-500 person dance club. i've confirmed this by reading some interviews:  http://indieethos.wordpress.com/tag/bowie-earthling/ and the setlist is below. as i approach 40, i tend to forget that i've been a part of some monumental performances.

October 8th, 1997 Set:
Dead Man Walking (Acoustic)
Waiting for the Man (The Velvet Underground cover)
Always Crashing in the Same Car
The Supermen
My Death
The Jean Genie
I'm Afraid of Americans (V1 Remix)
Strangers When We Meet
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
Seven Years in Tibet
Looking for Satellites
Under Pressure
Hallo Spaceboy
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Little Wonder


Panic in Detroit
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
The Last Thing You Should Do
V-2 Schneider
Battle for Britain (The Letter)
O Supermen
(Laurie Anderson cover)
White Light/White Heat
(The Velvet Underground cover)
Moonage Daydream

Encore 2:

Queen Bitch
I Can't Read
(Tin Machine song)
Telling Lies
Look Back in Anger
Is It Any Wonder
Pallas Athena
The Man Who Sold the World
All the Young Dudes


late spring update pt. 1 - secret stages

i played friday night with through the sparks at rogue tavern. we were initially scheduled to play on the outside stage, but we got rained in. on saturday night i played two sets at metro bar. the first set was with electroliner, which was very well attended, and the last set of the night was rubys. this was actually the last rubys show for quite a while, because grey is moving in e few weeks to south korea. 

all three sets with all three bands were very strong. through the sparks got cut short, because so many bands had to be shoved into rogue tavern. the rubys set was by far the best one yet. we were joined on stage by matt green, one of the original guitarists and singers for rubys, who now lives in muscle shoals.  

here's a few links and a reproduced review of the debut of the secret stages music fest that took place in the loft district in mid may:


There were a number of unknowns surrounding the first-ever Secret Stages music festival in Birmingham, AL. I knew it had a good lineup, but I didn’t know how it would function as a festival. Would it feel like a unified event, or just a bunch of loosely connected shows taking place during the same weekend? Would each individual venue stick to their schedule? Would anybody show up?
Luckily, the answers to those questions were good ones. Secret Stages definitely felt like an interconnected festival. There was a central, blocked off area in downtown Birmingham that served as the main hub, with vendors, an outdoor stage, and several of the participating venues all situated around the same city block. All of the other venues were nearby, too, so it never took more than few minutes to get from one place to another. Furthermore, they all had prominent Secret Stages placards displaying their schedule out front, and they miraculously stuck to that schedule for most of the weekend. There were a couple of logistical issues that I’ll talk about later, but for the most part the festival was run smoothly.
Plus, the music was just great. Almost all of the lineup was composed of emerging bands from the Southeast, and the organizers had clearly done their homework. In this case, “emerging” never meant “your friend’s brother’s bar band that plays locally 3 times a year.” There were a ton of genuinely talented bands that look like they have great things on the horizon.
So, how was the attendance? I would say it was about what I expected. When the biggest names in your lineup are The Love Language, G-Side, and Dawes, you’re not going to be drawing massive crowds. This festival is a celebration of under-the-radar bands, so they’re catering to a smaller crowd of music lovers willing to seek out the unfamiliar, and I would say they were successful in drawing in that crowd. The club shows all seemed like they were more well-attended than they would have been under non-festival circumstances. I think a lot of bands probably played to crowds 2 or 3 times the size of what they would have drawn had they booked an unrelated show on another weekend. That’s especially impressive when you consider the fact that there was a ton of scheduling overlap among the 11 stages.
Day by day breakdown of what I saw below.
I got there later than I had hoped for on Friday, so the first band I really caught was Glossary (Murfeesboro, TN). They pull from alt-country and Southern rock, and should appeal to anyone who has ever owned a Lucero or Drive-By Truckers album. They played on the Miller Lite/Alagasco Outdoor Stage, which was a converted parking lot right off the shut down stretch of 2nd Ave N that served as homebase for the festival. It was typically the most crowded stage all weekend, and Glossary drew a healthy crowd for their 8:15 set.
After Glossary, we headed over to Rogue Tavern for Venice is Sinking (Athens, GA). 
Honestly, I was a little worried before the show started. Rogue Tavern is a classier bar and restaurant than the name might suggest, and most of the room was filled with tables. Most of those tables were filled with people who seemed to be finishing up dinner or having a few drinks with friends. It didn’t look like the ideal setting for a band like Venice, who move at a deliberate pace and rely heavily on atmosphere. My fears never materialized, though – the band took charge of that room and got a great response. Most of the crowd might have been seated, but the enthusiastic applause after slow burn opener “Iron Range” suggested they had the room’s full attention. The rest of the set was equally wonderful, as always.
After Venice, we walked over to Easy Street, a pop-up venue a couple of blocks from the main festival drag. Easy Street was a cool little hole-in-the-wall, with the kind of gaudily patterned carpet you usually only find in bolwing alleys and arcades. As far as we could find out, it’s normally just an empty building, but during Secret Stages it was a pretty awesome place to see a show. The makeshift stage was actually pretty serious business, with a professional PA, lighting rig, and ridiculously high drum riser that all looked out of place in the otherwise dingy enivrons. 
It had an endearing effect, and so did Baak Gwai (Tuscaloosa, AL), a post-punk band that gave off a nerdy Shellac vibe. They’re worth looking into. Next up was The Booze (Atlanta, GA), who were playing at 10:30 at Das House, a German biergarten that is every bit as tacky and over the top as every other German biergarten you’ve been to. It was kind of an awesome place to see a show, too. The room was crowded, and The Booze delivered. They absolutely nail the ’60s British Invasion sound, and they do it with the perfect combination of raucous energy and professional precision. I was glad to see them go over so well with an out of town crowd.
Our next stop was Thomas Function (Hunstville, AL) at Matthew’s Bar and Grill, a gloriously divey dive bar with an attached room for live music. I dug the venue, but Thomas Function wasn’t doing it for me or anyone else in my group. I enjoy their recorded stuff pretty well, so I would be willing to give them another shot, but on Friday they just struck me as anonymous bar band #42.
We decided to cross the street to check out a bit of Wooden Wand (Lexington, KY) at the Wine Loft, which strangely enough is a groundfloor wine bar with really high ceilings. Based on the experimental folk recordings I had heard, I expected Wooden Wand to be stripped down, atmospheric, and kind of weird, but what he and his band were cranking out was much closer to standard alt-country. I enjoyed it, but we were only able to catch a few songs.
We left the Wine Loft bound for the outdoor stage expecting to catch The Love Language at 11:30, but when we got there we learned that the stage had been shut down due to rain. The two remaining bands (Through the Sparks and The Love Language) had been squeezed into Rogue Tavern’s lineup, with The Love Language scheduled to play at 1:00. We headed over there and caught the end of The Fervor (Louisville, KY), who were fine but a little nondescript, but we bailed once Dangermuffin (Charelston, SC) started jamming. There’s definitely an audience for that stuff, but I’m not part of it.
We ended up at Metro Bar and Grill for Madeline (Athens, GA), who plays singer-songwriter folk fleshed out by a full band. Her arrangements and her voice are both pretty interesting, and it was a strong set. The bar was a low key place that looks like it’s more likely to host an open mic night than a touring band, but the sound was solid and it was easy enough to get a decent sightline.
After Madeline, we went back to Rogue for The Love Language‘s (Raleigh, NC) delayed performance. It was worth the wait, and probably my favorite set of the weekend. The centerpiece of the band is Stuart McLamb’s emotive voice, which was turned up as high in the live mix as it is on both albums. He can sell distress better than anyone, and the controlled chaos of his backing band only bolsters the sentiment. These songs are urgent and cathartic, and the energy the band brings to them lifts them out of navel-gazing miserabilia and turns them into something that’s almost celebratory. McLamb can turn exorcising demons into a dance party.

Unfortunately, we were all pretty drained after The Love Language and just didn’t have the energy to stick around for G-Side (Hunstville, AL), who were closing out the first night at the Rogue. It was 2:15 and there just wasn’t any gas left in the tank. I guess I’ll have to make them a priority at Pitchfork in July.
Saturday afternoon’s schedule was the festival’s only serious logistical flaw. Music started at 2:00PM on the outdoor stage, but none of the other venues started up until 6:30 at the earliest, with most starting around 8:00. If you didn’t like who was playing the outdoor stage during the afternoon, you didn’t have any other live music options. It would have been nice to have at least one or two other afternoon choices, and most of the venues were already open, so why not?
We tried to get there in time for Dawes’ 2:00 performance, but we unfortunately showed up right as they were wrapping up. Since we didn’t have much of an interest in seeing the rest of the afternoon’s lineup, we wandered around and killed time. Luckily, there was an amazing junk shop called What’s on 2nd? just inside the main gate, and it had enough interesting stuff to keep us occupied for almost an hour. That still left us with a ton of time to kill, though, so we ended up seeing a bunch of URI‘s set (Tuscaloosa, AL) on the outdoor stage. Not my thing. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon playing pool at Matthew’s.
It definitely picked up later, though. Mind Powers (Columbus, GA) played a set of decent noise-rock at Easy Street at 6:30. It was mostly just generic Mclusky worship, including an extremely faithful cover of “To Hell With Good Intentions.” It might not have been too memorable, but if you’re going to shamelessly crib from another band, Mclusky is pretty good choice.
Manray (Athens, GA) played Easy Street next. They were amazing. They delivered heavy, mercurial math rock with epic blasts of dissonance, and they never tested their audience’s patience. Easily one of my favorite sets of the weekend. I can’t wait to see them again.
The rest of the venues were getting started by that point. We headed over to Rogue to see Howlies (Atlanta, GA), who played their combination of vintage ’50s rock and Ramones-style punk to a pretty big crowd. They played a couple of new songs, at least one of which I haven’t heard them play before. Either of them would have fit nicely on last year’s very strong Stunned EP, and that’s definitely a good thing. Check out a video I took of their performance here.
After Howlies we headed over to M-Lounge, an upstairs event space attached to Matthew’s. We saw the first couple of songs of 13ghosts (Birmingham, AL) set, but they didn’t make much of an impression. Members of Oryx and Crake were simultaneously watching The Bear (Muscle Shoals, AL) downstairs at Matthew’s, and they had nothing but good things to say about them.
Noot d’ Noot (Atlanta, GA) played the outdoor stage at 9:15, and by the end of their set they had probably accumalated one of the largest crowds of the weekend. Their performance was a shot in the arm, the perfect antidote to combat the lull in energy that comes from wandering around a music festival for nearly 7 hours. Their psychedelic funk even managed to get the outdoor crowd dancing.
We wanted to catch Pujol (Nashville, TN) at Metro after Noot d’ Noot, but the venue was behind schedule and we unfortunately didn’t have time to see him before catching Oryx and Crake (Atlanta, GA) at the Wine Loft at 11:00. They ran into a string of technical problems, but they handled them so smoothly that much of the audience was probably unaware that anything was wrong. This was the first time I’ve seen them as a four piece, and it’s a cool change of pace. The contrast between the electronic and acoustic sides of the band is more pronounced in the stripped-down lineup, so it’s like hearing a new spin on familiar songs. The new songs are fantastic, too, especially “The Road,” which features Ryan Peoples on bowed saw. The instrument seemed to confound the hell out of the sound guy, but I think it adds something wonderfully eerie to what might be the best song they’ve written to date.
Wine Loft is the only venue I’m not 100% sold on, though. The low lighting and upscale lounge atmopshere might suit a band like Oryx better than a rowdy dive bar, but the layout of the room is just not that conducive to live music. The room’s columns and the placement of the tables and couches resulted in some strange sightlines. It almost felt like the stage area was disconnected from the rest of the room. Maybe something to think about for next year.
After Oryx, we went to the outdoor stage for Futurebirds (Athens, GA). We took in their psychedelic country as the lightest of drizzles came down. It was a relaxing breather between indoor sets. After about 30 minutes, we ducked into Rogue Tavern to hear a few songs from Crooked Fingers (Asheville, NC), who sounded great. We wanted to check out Jack Oblivian, though, so we didn’t catch much.
Jack Oblivian (Memphis, TN) was the perfect fit for Matthew’s. The stage is in a mostly unadorned room that feels like a giant unfinished basement. It looks like it’s more suited to storing tractors or some other form of heavy machinery. So basically it’s ideal for raucous, rootsy rock shows. Jack played over an hour of punk-country to a responsive crowd that seemed to know the material. Some people were dancing, and most people were drunk. We went across the street about midway through the set to check out Skewby (Memphis, TN) at the Wine Loft, but we only managed to catch a few minutes of the Memphis rapper’s set. Apparently he went on 10 minutes early and only played for about 18 total. Oh well – heading back across the street for the rest of Jack Oblivian was a nice consolation.
And that was it. We saw a lot of great music in our two days in Birmingham, and I will hopefully be back next year. Word of mouth should be strong among both the fans that attended and the bands that played. If they keep putting together equally stacked lineups, their reputation is just going to continue to build. Let’s hope they decide to come back for round two next year.


through the sparks @ secret stages

last week we got an unexpected press blitz from both city papers, leading up to our set during the debut of secret stages on may 13th. i'm posting the feature article interview with jody nelson, along with a pic of the cover of the bham weekly. additionally, david pelfrey, long time music critic at the back/white city paper gave us an in depth review and a lot of accolades. this is the same guy who decimated the ashes in a feature on city stages 2003. looking back on it, he was 100% correct.

by David Pelfrey -
Worm Moon Waning was the best album by a local band in 2010. In fact, for the last three or four years no one in town has made more appealing, accomplished music than these guys. The next time the experts put together a "crucial" compilation of music made in Alabama (there's a lot of that going on these days), if "Your Old Haunts" isn't on the free CD, we'll know just how much credibility said experts can actually claim.

The aforementioned album and the monthly issue of mostly stellar singles last year (now combined on Year of Beasts) indicate that T the S mine the same rich vein MGMT and The Flaming Lips do, so it's only fair to note that our local heroes struck more nuggets on Worm Moon Waning than MGMT ever did with their sophomore effort.

There's plenty to admire in that compilation of singles as well. "The Laughter Lulls" might be some lost Lennon-Yoko AM gold that imagines Grant Lee Buffalo deconstructing "Whiter Shade of Pale." It's easy to hear Pulp or hits-era Todd Rundgren in "Company Cars," and it's impossible not to hear Marc Bolan in "Squares."

Unhurried, atmospheric, and often moody psychedelic pop that offers memorable tunes is hard to come by, but it's even harder to find very many folks in town who are excited that Through the Sparks offers so much of it. Perhaps that's because the band doesn't seem very excited either. Whether they recognize it or not, this group is leagues ahead of their peers in terms of creativity and "otherness," yet there they stood on stage at WorkPlay in T-shirts and jeans, coming across like regular guys.

The brilliant, engaging, and wonderfully peculiar sounds in their music cry out for an accompanying decadence, contrivance, and no small amount of glam pretense. (Someone came very close to conveying this in some excellent promotional videos on YouTube, which delivered an undeniable David Lynch vibe.) It's very frustrating. The absolute best band in Alabama fully understands that they are in the music business, but somehow overlooked the very obvious fact that they are also in the show business. - David Pelfrey

by Sam George -
Everyone knows that the music industry is changing forever. Faced with emerging technology that makes the traditional model of record production obsolete, the entire business is undergoing a public soul-searching as well as a mad scramble to be the first to stumble on a new model that makes sense (and money) in the internet age.

The problem is so ubiquitous that a question about facing it has become standard in almost every artist interview I’ve read recently. The answers to these questions are also fairly standard: It’s easier to make a record but harder to get it noticed, and taking music on tour is now the grail of the working musician who wishes to make a living with their art.

But in reality the future is just as uncertain as it always is. There is no one “right” way, no patented formula for success. Many artists may find their way on the road, but the truth is that this new climate doesn’t favor a single path to commercial and artistic happiness. It favors the innovators, those willing to look beyond the typical, to build their own methods and run with them.

Birmingham band Through the Sparks (TTS) are one such group of individuals. Despite national recognition and a solid local and regional fan base, they were unable to fully embrace the “get your money on the road” mentality because of ties to home that made it difficult to leave for long periods of time and return to out-of-town venues with the frequency necessary to retain fans.

TTS front-man Jody Nelson recalls the moment where they decided to switch gears. “Travis [Morgan], who owns [TTS label] Skybucket Records—we were talking to him about trying to get to touring,” Nelson says, “and he was really wanting us to do that. Our problem was, like everybody else, you go somewhere and nobody knows who you are because you haven’t been there in two years because you don’t have enough money to go back every couple months. It was just getting futile, so we came up with the idea—our bass player Greg Slamen had just had a baby—and it was just impossible to [tour enough] where it was worth it; you have to go all or none. So we decided that we’d try another approach.

We got the website up to where we could actually [reach] enough people that we did have on our mailing list, that we could keep reminding them, when we do come back, that we’re still around. Once we decided to do it like that, it was easy to say ‘Okay, there’s going to be a deadline every month and we’re going to send out a newsletter every month with something [new] to listen to.’” Armed with this new structure, TTS set about recording a single per month to include with their newsletter. It was an entirely new way of thinking about recording compared to their traditional album-oriented approach.

“Everything [changed],” Nelson remembers. “Everything, because first of all we weren’t working in album format. We’ve always done that. Plus in an album format you can go back all at once and maybe do all the overdubs or something. Now when we do play out of town somewhere there are people we can contact now, and they’re probably going to be there. Not all of them of course, it’s crazy to think that, but we can pretty much play and have somebody show up, instead of just going somewhere where it’s totally empty. That and we were able to build the mailing list a lot and also have constant mentions every month online somewhere, instead of just once a year when you release a record.”

After 12 months of creating one song a month, they realized they had an album’s worth and decided to put them together in a collection, entitled Almanac (MMX) Year of the Beast, which they could release.

“It wasn’t the idea from the beginning,” Nelson says. “It just kind of got to be that way because—well, we realized we’ve got an album here. No matter if it is disjointed, it still makes sense as a collection, especially if you know how it was done, and why it came out that way. We weren’t able to have the advantage of knowing what collection of songs were going to be on there, [so] the collection we’re putting out is backheavy. You can tell once it gets to the end that it starts to make sense like an album, because the earlier songs we were able to look at in retrospect. Normally what you would do is take that and start to get an order together and say ‘Oh well, this song goes here, and this one goes there, and because we’ve got this then we’re going to add this.’ And it starts to make sense as a record near the end.

But [on Almanac] the ones in the beginning are kind of hodge-podged together. I mean, not really song by song, but as far as the way they connect with each other. So it was kind of an anti-album in that aspect, but also since we only had a month we couldn’t just—I mean, usually I can’t listen to anything we’ve recorded, because it’s been drilled into you. It’s like refrigerator buzz or whatever, you can’t even hear it. But I still like this one, because we weren’t able to kill every song by overdubbing too much or rewriting.”

There were other challenges as well, especially for Nelson as the primary songwriter. “For me, musically,” Nelson says, “I think it was fun having all those little deadlines, but lyric-wise, to finish something in a month for me is really hard, if it’s going to be put out, because I usually go back and rewrite and stuff like that, but just constantly having to walk around and think about [the lyrics] really kind of made me feel like an asshole a lot. Still, that’s kind of what’s cool about it.

The fact that we knew we had a certain amount of time, there’s stuff that would have gotten thrown away if it weren’t for that restriction. Meaning, ‘Okay, we’ve gotta make this good.’ So it was a challenge, without all the time to get it wrong. We were just kind of like, ‘Well man, let’s just do what we know.’ So there is some stuff [on Almanac] that’s more safe. There’s some straight up rock songs on here instead of noise-scaped, ambient [stuff].”

Fear not, the resulting album does contain a fair amount of the kind of off-kilter weirdness that made TTS’ last album Worm Moon Waning so appealing; it’s just not as prominent. Though the month-to-month production schedule does make the beginning of the album feel like it’s changing channels a bit, that variety actually served to draw me deeper in, rather than push me away. In a way, this is the audio equivalent of a collection of short stories. Each track tells its own tale, weaves its own aesthetic, but it is the combination of all these different soundscapes that provides Almanac’s particular charm.

Now that TTS have settled on a new model that works for them, they aren’t content to rest easy. They’re already working on their next release, though they have loosened some of their selfimposed restrictions.

“[Almanac] comes out June 21,” Nelson says, “ but we’ve got songs that we were writing in the background this whole time, and we’ve already gotten in that rhythm of doing a song a month and it kind of stayed that way a little bit, so by the time September rolls around we’ll probably have another [album] finished, [this time] without the restrictions. It’s better for output, but this time when we’re done with something we can just throw it out like normal.

TTS are also playing Birmingham’s newest music festival, Secret Stages, which will take place May 13-14 and provides them an opportunity to get in some live performance in front of a large audience without the hassle of leaving town.

I ask Nelson if he is excited about the impending festival. “Absolutely, it’s gonna be great,” he says. “[The loft-district] part of town’s really fun. Any time Birmingham can do something— people like to get out. This kind of thing brings people that aren’t usually music fans down here. People that aren’t in it every night tend to get out and just have fun. The surrounding area comes into town. I’m excited about hearing The Love Language.

That’s great guitar music. John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives are good friends of mine. We used to play with John Paul, years back. I’m actually playing with Barton Carroll, I’ve seen him play guitar, and I love seeing him. And then all the people I’ve never heard of—Dawes is gonna be great, but all the people I’ve never heard of, that’s the fun part—if you walk around you see stuff that you wouldn’t normally know, that’s the reason to go.”

Almanac (MMX) Year of the Beast will be available June 21, but you can visit www.throughthesparksmusic.com to listen to the individual singles, download their previous albums and find out a more about the band. For more information on Secret Stages, visit www.secretstages.net.


monster twister wrecks alabama

this was the big one. so far, it sounds like my friends and family are ok. a friend of mine lost her father in west birmingham. another friend told me about an entire subdivision that is gone, and probably the people as well. crazy.

after witnessing massive natural disasters recently in new zealand, haiti, japan and elsewhere, alabama now has quite a mess on its hands. last year it felt rather strange witnessing the events unfold in the gulf, while at the same time - nashville got hit with a giant, intense flood event. the associated press national news story is below:

PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. – Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out neighborhoods across a wide swath of the South, killing at least 201 people in the deadliest outbreak in nearly 40 years, and officials said Thursday they expected the death toll to rise.

Alabama's state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 131 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 16 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.

"We were in the bathroom holding on to each other and holding on to dear life," said Samantha Nail, who lives in a blue-collar subdivision in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove where the storm slammed heavy pickup trucks into ditches and obliterated tidy brick houses, leaving behind a mess of mattresses, electronics and children's toys scattered across a grassy plain where dozens used to live. "If it wasn't for our concrete walls, our home would be gone like the rest of them."

Dave Imy, a meteorologist with the prediction service, said the deaths were the most in a tornado outbreak since 1974, when 315 people died.

In Alabama, where as many as a million people were without power, Gov. Robert Bentley said 2,000 national guard troops had been activated and were helping to search devastated areas for people still missing. He said the National Weather Service and forecasters did a good job of alerting people, but there is only so much that can be done to deal with powerful tornadoes a mile wide.

One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama. A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barreled through late Wednesday afternoon, leveling the city.

"When I looked back, I just saw trees and stuff coming by," said Mike Whitt, a resident at DCH Regional Medical Center who ran from the hospital's parking deck when the wind started swirling and he heard a roar.

On Thursday morning, he walked through the neighborhood next to the hospital, home to a mix of students and townspeople, looking at dozens of homes without roofs. Household items were scattered all over the ground — a drum, running shoes, insulation, towels, and a shampoo bottle. Streets were impassable, the pavement strewn with trees, pieces of houses and cars with their windows blown out.

Dr. David Hinson was working at the hospital when the tornado hit. He and his wife had to walk several blocks to get to their house, which was destroyed. Several houses down, he helped pull three students from the rubble. One was dead and two were badly injured. He and others used pieces of debris as makeshift stretchers to carry them to an ambulance.

"We just did the best we could to get them out and get them stabilized and get them to help," he said. "I don't know what happened to them."

The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out. The governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states. President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance.

"Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster," Obama said in a statement.

Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled by downed trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in medians. "What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time," Mayor Walter Maddox said Wednesday.

University officials said there didn't appear to be significant damage on campus, and dozens of students and locals were staying at a 125-bed shelter in the campus recreation center.

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant about 30 miles west of Huntsville lost offsite power. The Tennessee Valley Authority-owned plant had to use seven diesel generators to power the plant's three units. The safety systems operated as needed and the emergency event was classified as the lowest of four levels, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

In Huntsville, meteorologists found themselves in the path of severe storms and had to take shelter in a reinforced steel room, turning over monitoring duties to a sister office in Jackson, Miss. Meteorologists saw multiple wall clouds, which sometimes spawn tornadoes, and decided to take cover, but the building wasn't damaged.

"We have to take shelter just like the rest of the people," said meteorologist Chelly Amin, who wasn't at the office at the time but spoke with colleagues about the situation.

In Kemper County, Miss., in the east-central part of the state, sisters Florrie Green and Maxine McDonald, and their sister-in-law Johnnie Green, all died in a mobile home that was destroyed by a storm. "They were thrown into those pines over there," Mary Green, Johnnie Green's daughter-in-law, said, pointing to a wooded area. "They had to go look for their bodies."

In Choctaw County, Miss., a Louisiana police officer was killed Wednesday morning when a towering sweetgum tree fell onto his tent as he shielded his young daughter with his body. The girl wasn't hurt. The storms came on the heels of another system that killed 10 people in Arkansas and one in Mississippi earlier this week.


rubys / end scene

my good friend grey watson, with whom i play in two bands, is moving to south korea at the beginning of june for a one year teaching contract. he's in his late 20's, so this is pretty much the perfect opportunity to go abroad. this will effectively dismantle our rock trio, rubys... and will put a definite damper on through the sparks.
we were planning on starting an album soon, but everyone stayed in a holding pattern until we knew what grey was going to do. now hopefully we can at least record some live demos of the new material so it doesn't get lost. at some point we might release the ep we recorded as a 5 piece at jody nelson's house in early 2010.

at my age, i don't think in terms of years anymore. they go by too fast. 5 years ago, i was already recording with the spots. life moves pretty fast. anyway... so rubys will be going out in a blaze of glory. we have two shows lined up with the grenadines - one at the nick in birmingham and one somewhere in tuscaloosa. war eagle.

there's also a set during the debut of secret stages in the downtown loft district in mid-may. and there's also talk of doing a house party somewhere in southside. that would pretty much cover all the bases. we have a lot of rehearsal to do in order to get up to speed, but rehearsing as a trio is super easy. much easier than a 5 or 6 piece. here's the rubys feature page for the city stages festival. i might post some rehearsal or performance footage on here once we get through all of these shows.


SXSW 2011 Part 3 - More Photos and Video

adding some more photos and links, and soon i'll be posting a half hour recap of random video clips i recorded. i'll flesh out this posting during the next day or two. these first photos were taken by jim fahy. here's another blurb from just before sxsw via bham weekly.