Dispatch from Chicago: ALCon, day 4

The fourth and final day of ALCon 2012 in Chicago was a fun end to what was a good event.

There were no field trips on this final day, after outings to the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Fermilab, and Yerkes Observatory during the first three days of the Astronomical League conference. Many attendees, including yours truly, had grown a little road weary and were happy to have a day devoted to events in the friendly confines of the Marriott Resort in Lincolnshire, Illinois, home base for ALCon.

An iPhone shot taken in a dark room doesn't do much justice to the righteous Astronomy Magazine Blues Band, which played a couple of boffo sets bracketing the banquet and awards ceremony at the annual conference of the Astronomical League July 7 in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Morning sessions focused on a variety of observing techniques, and the afternoon was devoted to an excellent, if lengthy, discussion of various aspects of light pollution. This was the general theme of the conference—the theme was “Celebrate Starlight”—and talks were given by International Dark-Sky Association co-founder David Crawford, Sue Bennett from Dark-Sky park Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Audrey Fischer, the conference co-chair and founder of One Star at a Time, and several experts who talked about the latest research on the proven or suspected health effects of excessive night-time lighting.

That’s all well and good, but I was most looking forward to the session that drew me to the conference in the first place: a couple of sets from the Astronomy Magazine Blues Band! The band featured Steve Kryscio, Keith Bauer, Jeff Felbab, Mike Soliday, Ron Kovach, and was anchored by drummer and Astronomy magazine editor Dave Eicher. The band played before and after the banquet and awards ceremony, and they rocked it! The pre-dinner set included some rock classics: The Credence standards “Born on the Bayou” and “Green River,” Cream/Clapton tunes “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room”, The Who’s “Squeeze Box”, the Band’s “The Weight”, and the Hendrix tune “Voodoo Chile”.

A second set after the banquet featured vocals by Wisconsin’s Megan Bobo, a former “American Idol” contestant, and included the blues standard “Key to the Highway,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, “Voodoo Woman”, Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”, and B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone.”

The drum kit for the out-of-this-world Astronomy Magazine Blues Band. Can you name that galaxy?

Ironically, after that tune the band was gone, as hotel brass came around and said it was time for some quiet time. I’m sad to report that, as excellent as the band was, it was not universally well-received. Though it was a visibly advertised part of the conference, some attendees seemed distressed by the live music. Seattle Astronomy enjoyed it a lot.

All in all the conference was great, but the snafu about the music was emblematic of some of the logistical glitches that marred the conference somewhat. It has to be difficult getting a couple of hundred people from place to place, but one can’t help but think it could have gone more smoothly, and that the outstanding Astronomy Magazine Blues Band would have received the rousing reception it deserved.

Next year’s Astronomical League conference will be held in Atlanta. They’ll have to put together quite a program to lure Seattle Astronomy down to the capital of Georgia.

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