Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our New Best Friends - Brotherhood Lions Club

Well, we just played for the Inauguration of the Brotherhood Lions Club last week because we've known Clando Brownlee for a long time and he's always doing something for the community. We never expected to get paid, or get a donation for Fresh Start Surgical Gifts.

But here I am with Mr. Brownlee taking his nice BIG check for Fresh Start for the work we did and that means he's our NEW BEST FRIEND! He's our BEST OLD FRIEND too, so he's got double honors with us now.

We're talking to Mr. Brownlee about doing a Lions/Varsity Strings project where we'll raise our Fresh Start money by doing a BBQ Blues Concert. This sounds FUN!!! More info will come when we figure out how we're going to do it. The Brotherhood Lions have promised to cater some smoked meat, burgers, weenies and Hawaiian mac salad and we think we can pull together a lot of good music, so....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tiki Oasis Ukulele Boy

Otto Von Stroheim's Tiki Oasis hired me (50 bucks a day as a Fresh Start donation) to wander around at their event playing the ukulele. This is an annual Hawaiian-appreciation event they have at the Hanalei Hotel. That's where Valentine and I played for the new Rotary Club last month, but this was a LOT different!

People started arriving in classic old cars:

And I stood out front greeting them with my Ukulele. I was the UKULELE BOY.

I wandered around from booth to booth, playing for everybody...

Tiki Carvers:

Drum Makers:

And other players who just want to jam - this is the famous Tony Marsico from the Martini Kings group. He's played bass for Bob Dylan, and just about everybody else. So he's COOL.

Here's a ukulele class they had on Sunday in the grove, taught by Judd Finklestein of the Mai Kai Gents, a professional Hawaiian music group:

And this is Denny Moynahan, a legendary player. He was taught by old people in a retirement cummunity he was working at, once they found out he wanted to play the Uke they wouldn't leave him alone until they taught him everything they knew since 1923. He's toured the world playing it since then.

Another ukulele fan:

And here I am in front of the Tiki.

The best thing was this one lady who brought a dog in her purse:

Anyway, the last two days we've played for the Lion's Club, a volunteer drive for Voices for Children, and Tiki Oasis, so that was probably the biggest weekend Varsity Strings has ever had. I'm going to have some ice cream, watch an episode of Mary Tyler Moore, and go to sleep!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Brotherhood Lions Club Inauguration

We've known Clando Brownlee for a long time - he's asked us to play at his Children's Charity Coalition meetings right from the start. So when he asked us to play at the inauguration ceremonies for the new Lions Club he's founding we said YES SIR!

It turns out that this is the first black-managed Lions Club in Southern California. Their main focus will be to aid the rebuilding of Haiti - the "Haiti Redemption Project". Clando has already made connections with the Haitian community in San Diego to help him with targeting the relief efforts, and some Haitian leaders showed up tonight to present a video about their efforts.

Us, we just worry about tuning up.

A little slide guitar as people arrive:

Lions from eight different clubs showed up.

It's getting more crowded...

Max plays some Beatles songs. Everybody like the Beatles.

Even Jake like the Beatles.

Presenting of the Colors by the Mira Mesa High School ROTC, maybe Curly Max knows these students:

The MC of the night is Pamela Hendrickson:

Armi Guzman sings the Star Spangled Banner -

All the Charter Officers of the new club, Clando at the far left -

Presenting the Lion's Bell and the official beginning of the club -

President Clando Brownlee, Jr.

And then we ROCK!


The Shrimp Escapes:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Community Coaching Center New 2010 Video

Just want to post the Community Coaching Center's new video all about what they do. We performed for them at a picnic-in-the-park event, and the kids that showed up were really happy and fun to play for. Everybody involved with the CCC are great - their program is for San Diego-area adolescents and teens diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Click to see us at the CCC's Inclusion Festival.

And here's the new YouTube video all about them:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cocktails and Awards with Fresh Start

Don't let this give you the wrong idea. Things aren't all fun and games with Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. But everybody deserves a night off (Santa gets 364 of them) and these folks REALLY deserve a party once in a while.

Doesn't she look like somebody's Fairy Godmother?

Here's us warming up! Yay!

When we perform with Jake, a Stones jam will often fall out of the blue.

Hi Amanda!

People started arriving and they seemed to be having fun!

Beads and more beads everywhere!

Here are some more happy people...

Jake and Valentine are still warming up,
and we realized that this was going to be FUN!
Look at those SMILES! All aboard the FUN TRAIN!

Time to get to work. Jake, it turns out, likes Eric Burdon and the Animals. And anything gritty, for that mattter.

"Tobacco Road" -

Blues Man Jake!

"Stand By Me" -

Fresh Beignets - I thought they only had these at Disneyland!

People suddenly arrive by the HUNDREDS.

Hey, Valentine, drop the beignets and get over here!

"Summertime" with Valentine:

Looking sharp with a dead seahorse tie pin-

So is Curly Max - even though Valentine said he couldn't wear the cool golden tie-

The crowd really likes this one - "Dark Eyes"...

Valentine does another slow jazz song -

And here's Jake and Valentine singing the song that Jake wrote for Fresh Start!

And Val drums on the next one -

Jake's been waiting to sing this all night! "House of the Rising Sun", classic for a New Orleans Mardi Gras - themed party...... it's his signature tune!

"Hey Joe" as usual ends the set.

Can you believe that this is only the second time Jake has ever sung in public??!?!?! The first time was in U.S. History Class, so it doesn't even count!

Time to relax - Curly Max says, "I have a story to tell!"

Jake says - "That was SOME STORY!"

WAIT! There's more!

Afterwards, there was an awards presentation. This is one of the people Fresh Start has helped out. She was REALLY REALLY HAPPY!

Then Mimi Askew suprised us by giving us these certificates of appreciation! Hooray!

Curly Max isn't the only one to get a certificate, even though it always seems to look that way. I think he just looks more like a musician than anybody else, so they give him good stuff first.

Curly Max is our Lonesome Leader.

Thanks to Fresh Start, we had a great time!

See you next time!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Max MacMillan - Founder, Guitarist

Here's my all-new blog:

Max MacMillan (that's me) started Varsity Strings at La Jolla High School in my freshman year because they wouldn't let me play guitar in the Marching Band! You can read the whole story HERE.We play exclusively for charity organizations and to raise money for Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. Varsity Strings has received five Community Service Awards, written an original theme song for our charity, produced benefit CDs, and we haven't had any free time for more than 4 years now! I like to surf too. And my fortune cookie said I spend too much time on my appearance, which is spot on, quite frankly.

Featured on the 2011 Squeaky Wheel tour: 

Me & Curly Max entertaining at the Del Mar Sunset Soiree:

LizFest, a private benefit concert by local jazz musicians.
Jamming with Grammy award winning drummer Russell Bizzett, with Jamie Shadowlight snapping pictures in the background! Sophia sings a great version of Little Lion Man, and I get to rip on my new 12-string electric/acoustic Guild!

My Tufts Application Video, and yes they accepted me!
... but I didn't choose them, sorry Tufts!

Guitars of choice: Guild 12-string acoustic/electric, 1972 Acoustic Washburn that I found in a pawn shop and my Gibson Les Paul Cherry-top Electric that cost a bit more than the Washburn. I named the Les Paul Sunshine. Only I and my dearest friends may call her Sunshine. And my coolio Mexico Strat I bought from my surfing buddy!

Favorite artists: Bruddah Iz, the mighty Jimmy Page & friends, Wes Montgomery, whatever makes me happy. Like...

Favorite song this week: Over the Rainbow. What else?

Curly Max - Music Director, Guitarist, Drummer

Curly Max is an amazing jazz and blues guitarist from Mira Mesa High School who has become our go-to music director for every performace he's involved with. He's also probably the nicest guy we've ever met. Curly Max has written many of our songs, arranged all the others, studies Flamenco Guitar, drums for a Ska band, and had 352 friends on Facebook the first day he joined! He actually has a fan club that follows him to his different events, which is kind of fun.

Guitar of Choice: 1975 Gibson Stereo ES-345 Tobacco Sunburst.

Favorite Song this Week:
Couldn't Stand the Weather by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Here he is pulling a great solo at the KidsFest in front of a pretty big crowd:

Valentine - Composer, Pianist, Singer

Valentine is an amazingly talented pianist that's been with us since the very start. She's written over 200 classical piano compositions and we'd really like her to get a record deal just so we could get into her concerts for free and also have a shelf full of Valentine CDs we could play all the time.

Here she is playing at LizFest in 2010.

Valley of the Gods composed and performed by Valentine Byrne:

Evening in Milano composed and performed by Valentine Byrne:

Jake - Singer, Songwriter

Jake came out of nowhere to being the best blues singer we've heard. So far, he's written 2 songs for us, including Fresh Start's theme song. Gotta get this guy a harmonica!

Instruments of Choice: Fender Acoustic Cutaway Guitar, Tambourine.

Favorite Artists: The Doors, Eric Burdon and the Animals, the Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground (or as he calls them, "V.U.")

Favorite Song This Week: Tobacco Road.

But here he is doing the classic House of the Rising Sun -

Jocelyn the Violinist

Jocelyn has been playing violin for 12 years, she is one of the first members of Varsity Strings and we love to do Christmas concerts with her! She's in the San Diego Youth Symphony and she can play everything from Mozart to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Sorry I don't have any YouTubes of her playing, but I usually end up listening to her so intensely I forget to shoot any video!

She's GREAT.

Alex - Composer, Pianist

Alex is an amazing composer, pianist, and basson player. He regularly writes songs (in longhand notation!) for the Coronado School of the Arts' musical theater programs. He's also a California Spelling Bee champion. And I think he's only 15, which makes his the youngest genius I've ever met!

Here he is playing a quick version of The Entertainer by Scott Joplin at one of our 94th Aero Squadron concerts:

Alex - Jazz Guitarist

Alex is a gifted jazz guitarist attending the Coronado School of the Arts. I've seen him play a song by looking at the music sheets for 3 seconds. He can play for hours, he's attended the Berklee Music Seminars, I can't tell him apart from a professional jazz guitarist, he's amazing!

We've teamed him up with Valentine here to do a nice version of "Night and Day" at the Green Jazz fest.

Jake - Singer, Songwriter

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Declan - Drummer and FBI Division Chief

Declan is the most killer amazing drummer I've ever played with!
What else can I say?!??!?!!!!

Big Max - Guitarist

Big Max is another guy named Max in Varsity Strings. He's about 6 feet 9 inches tall and likes to play rhythm guitar, and he really blasts out a great beat, you almost don't need drums with Big Max.

James - Singer, Songwriter

James is the second member of Varsity Strings to sign up, and was responsible for us playing at many big events. We look forward to playing with him again!

He also has 2 CDs out, sells his songs online and plays a great 12 string Taylor guitar!

Check out his cool website:

Jordan - Our New Bluegrass Pro

Jordan is a guitarist but has been experimenting with Max's mandolin lately. Looks like he's hooked. He also helped us collect toys at the San Diego County Fair this summer, and played multiple days at our booth, so...

Thanks Jordan!

Sam - Guitarist and Neveready Singer

Sam has played with us a lot of times. With Varsity Strings he plays really smooth acoustic guitar blues. He's also a singer and guitarist with a Punk-Ska band called "Neveready".

Here they are playing at a street festival:

Christian - Guitarist and Neveready Bandmember

Christian helped us collect 2500 soft little cuddly toys for hospitalized kids at the Rady Children's Hospital here in San Diego. Thanks Christian! He also plays lead guitar in a Ska band called Neveready.

Here's a little video introducing the band members of Neveready:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting Closer on the "Gift of Grace" Song

Another practice today with Jake and Valentine - another version of the song and we're three days away from the performance. No microphone here, so the voices are a bit faint but we're getting there. I am not nervous.

I like the piano, don't you????!!!

Getting Ready for Friday the 13th!

Here I am meeting with Jose Carillo at the Handlery Hotel. Fresh Start Surgical Gifts has asked us the play for them there - on Friday the 13th!

And Jake has written a great song for them, hope they like it. It's called "Gift of Grace" and here's the lyrics:

Gift of Grace

Only if you take a step with a smile
Will the world smile back.
Only if you reach out to touch that face
Can you give the gift of grace.

That face is more than a picture on a wall
It’s not a cry, it’s a call.
And don’t you know that every day’s a present?


How long will it be until the seasons turn to spring
How long until the trees flower again?
How long will you hold your breath
Please close your eyes and take a step.

That face is more than a picture on a wall
It’s not a cry, it’s a call.
And don’t you know that every day’s a present?


Every day’s a present.

Valentine came over to practice singing it and the piano part...

Next -more practicing!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New Song by Max & Max

I’ll Visit Sometime

London’s fine, gotta see it some time,
New York’s fun, except for the crime.
Paris is hot, I hear it burns,
Nashville spins if you give it a turn.

--- small solo ---

Send me a card I’ll visit some day,
Pack my bags I’m going away.
Don’t need a map don’t need a plane,
My guy’s address is still the same.

--- small solo ---

Not going to Chicago, Vegas or L.A.,
My man lives only two blocks away.
Where he goes is what I need,
Traveling’s nice but love is free.

--- long solo ---

Traveling’s nice but love . . .
is free.