Friday, May 27, 2016

A Wonderful Memorial Day Week-End To All

Wishing you all a sunny and relaxing Memorial Day week-end.
I will be spending mine right here in Carroll Gardens, tending to my little back yard.


Dear EPA Region 2 Administrator Enck: Public Comments Regarding Settlement Agreement Between EPA And The City On Siting Of CSO Tank In Gowanus

As mentioned in previous PMFA posts, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently accepting comments from the public in regards to a proposed Gowanus Canal Administrative Settlement Agreement with New York City. The agreement would allow the City to site one of the two retention tanks mandated in the Record of Decision at the head of the Canal rather than at the EPA suggested site which is under the pool in Thomas Greene Park.

The City's plan relies on the taking of two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, by eminent domain. A third site, 270 Nevins Street will most likely also be seized by the City, which plans to use it for staging purposes during the construction project.

This would displace several businesses, including Eastern Effects, a successful film and television studio, where many commercials, movies and television shows like FX's "The Americans" are filmed.

The public comment period will end on March 31. 
I send my own comment to EPA this past Tuesday and thought I would post it here, together with the statement of Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development  and of reader Becky, who was kind enough to sent hers to us.
Read on.

Gowanus Canal Administrative Settlement Agreement And Order For Remedial Design, Removal Action and Cost Recovery

Dear Administrator Enck,

I would like to express my absolute dismay over the proposed agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the City of New York to situate one of the two retention tanks mandated in the Record of Decision at the head of the Canal rather than at the EPA suggested site which is under the pool in the Thomas Greene Park.

As a member of the Carroll Gardens/ Gowanus Community and a founding member of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group, I am at a loss to explain why you and your Agency would enter into an agreement with the City, a Potentially Responsible Party, that:

- will cost tax and rate payers hundreds of millions of dollars more than if the tank were to be placed under Thomas Greene Park. (In her 2016-2019 budget, NYC DEP Commissioner Lloyd set aside $510 million to cover "the cost to secure land, design two CSO tanks and construct ONE of the two planned CSO tanks adjacent to the Gowanus Canal". EPA estimated the entire clean-up of the Gowanus Superfund Site at $500 million.)

- relies on the taking of two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, by eminent domain. A third site, 270 Nevins Street, may also be seized by the City. This would displace Eastern Effects, a successful film and television studio, which employs anywhere from 350 to 450 employees, and contributes, by their estimate, approximately, four million dollars ($4,000,000) per year to the local economy.
Somehow, one cannot shake the suspicion that this is all a huge land grab by the city and more tied to the imminent rezoning of the Gowanus corridor than to an honest willingness to assume responsibility for polluting the canal.

- would grant the City more than four years to negotiate the unnecessary legal wrangling associated with condemnation and ULURP certification.

- would allow the City to re-contaminate the canal with CSO after it has been dredged and capped. (Walter Mugdan, at a public meeting, mentioned that 2-8 years could pass between dredging and the completion of the tank.)

I fail to see any benefits for the community in this agreement. I do not believe, as EPA implies, that a 'covenant not to sue' by the City is worth paying twice as much for the remedy, years of additional CSO contamination, and additional cleaning AFTER remediation.
Surely, the threat of a law suit by a PRP is business as usual for the EPA. One would expect nothing less from a polluter. Why then, in this case, does it seem as if the Federal Government is bending backwards to placate the City, which has done precious little to address its environmental responsibility in Gowanus.

It would also appear that the EPA administration was blinded by the City's assertion that using Douglass Greene Park for the siting of the retention tank constituted 'park alienation'. I believe that the City used the shortage of green space and the temporary loss of an amenity like the Double D Pool as a diversion. The real environmental justice issue has always been the fact that the City chose to build a park and pool on a heavily polluted former MGP site, thereby exposing generations of children to possible harm.
It seems ironic that the City continues to use our 1.8 mile long canal as an open sewer, thereby preventing the community from enjoying the roughly 12 acres of recreational public space the Gowanus could provide if cleaned.

I strongly believe that the EPA should NOT sign the agreement and not allow a PRP to renegotiate the timeline set forth in the Record of Decision. The EPA should compel the City to work with National Grid to site the tank under the Double D pool in Thomas Greene Park. If the DEP insists on building a head house and wants to increase park land, it should purchase either 233-239 Nevins Street or 537 Sackett Street, both currently for sale and located directly adjacent to the lots the City plans on seizing.
This would be a win-win-win situation for the community, the DEP and the EPA since it would address all concerns and needs at once.

The residents living near the Gowanus Canal put their trust in EPA when they overwhelmingy supported the listing of their polluted waterway as a Superfund site. Please don't forsake the interests of the community to accommodate a PRP.

Respectfully,
Katia Kelly


Here is Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development's comment to EPA

Dear Administrator Enck and Director Mugdan,

It is with deeply conflicting emotions and heavy hearts that we write to you regarding the pending agreement between the EPA and the City of New York.

Our organization, CORD, is a completely volunteer group. We are local residents,home owners, business owners, parents, children and grandparents. We do not have nor have we ever sought not for profit status. We receive funds from no one and we do not seek or accept donations. We devote our time to our community simply because we care.

Once the Gowanus Canal was nominated to the NPL, we spent a great deal of time advocating for it. We celebrated its listing. We championed your presence in our neighborhood and we listened very carefully to you.

We immediately applied for and became members of the Community Advisory Group and carried back all of the information we received there to our members.

We established a relationship with our EPA "team". We rejoiced in the accessibility and transparency they provided. We grew fond of them and still believe that they represent the finest example of how any government agency and its employees should conduct themselves.

When the ROD was issued, because we were listening carefully, we understood that the only "negotiable" part of the ROD was the inclusion of a containment facility in Red Hook. The Red Hook community said 'NO' and it was dropped.

But, in spite of the fact that EPA often spoke of how they do not get involved in land use--and that only the containment facility was negotiable, the retention tank sitings were suddenly up in the air.

We were certain that common sense, a sense of purpose and fiscal responsibility would prevail, but unfortunately, a grandiose Gowanus land use plan somewhat disguised as a crusade to save a swimming pool situated beneath contaminated earth, is going to delay the cleanup by a number of years, cost private property owners their land, businesses their livelihood, many employees their jobs and taxpayers a big hit to their pockets.

Add to the above the most painful cost of all--a recontamination of the expensive Canal cleanup before anyone gets to enjoy the fully realized benefits of this costly and complicated remediation.

We understand that EPA gets an assurance that NYC will not pursue litigation regarding the necessity of the retention tanks. Ok. That is a good thing, we suppose, but it comes at an extremely high price to the community and seems pitifully inequitable.

So, although we understand that the EPA has tried to make a deal with NYC that appeases some, eliminates the possibility of (even more) lengthy litigation, and eventually gets the job, "sort of" done, we so hoped and believed that "sort of" would never be good enough for our heroes at the EPA.

Finally, we cannot help but wonder what kind of precedent this will set with the other major PRP, National Grid as well as for other future Superfund sites.

We were the first ever Superfund site in NYC.

The plan and subsequent ROD was as big, bold, encompassing and complicated as the Gowanus is contaminated.

The cost analysis was calculated, thoughtful and responsible.

The rewards were to be enormous- a healthier environment, an urban waterway with drastically reduced toxins AND pathogens surrounded by many acres of open green space along its banks.

We loved it. We believed in it. We counted on it.

How tragic that this historic project will not be remembered in this way. Instead, it's legacy will be the Superfund site where the EPA did, indeed, get involved in land use.

It will be the site where a great deal of taxpayers' monies were spent on a job that was only "sort of" successful.

It's quasi clean condition necessitating further remediation post cleaning and capping will certainly appear wasteful--a black eye to the Superfund program since after all, you were supposed to be the final word.

And worst of all, the Superfund site where the Record of Decision became the Record of Indecision and Genuflection to Political Pressure brought to us by the Grand Puppeteers--the Development Gods of NYC.

It is all so terribly disheartening and sad.

Sincerely,

Lucy DeCarlo, Rita Miller, Triada Samaras
Co-Founders, CG CORD/Carroll Gardens-Gowanus Coalition for Respectful Development

And here is the statement by Becky X.

Gowanus Canal: Comment on on Proposed Settlement Agreement for Siting, Design and Site Prep for RH-034 CSO Retention Tank
Dear Mr. Mugdan,

Something stinks in Gowanus – and I'm not talking about the canal.

The proposed use of eminent domain for the siting of the necessary retention tanks could not possibly be a worse decision, designed to set up the project for complete failure.

Why, when there are multiple other viable options, all less expensive and more time-efficient than the eminent domain "solution," has this agreement been allowed to go forward? Is this a deliberate sabotage? Does someone have photographs of EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck with a goat? I begin to think so.

I have lived in the area for over 14 years, supported the Superfund designation and have been following the proceedings closely, looking forward to a day when we can safely enjoy the clean canal waterway the neighborhood deserves, and has worked so hard to attain.

When the Superfund designation finally went through, over the strenuous objections and all the dirty tricks NYC could throw at the process in an effort to weasel out of any responsibility, we were so relieved. We were prepared to live through the inconvenience of the cleanup work that we knew would need to be done, and realistically would take years to complete. The result would be worth it.

But before we've even started, the process has left the community stripped of agency and trust. We feel angered and betrayed as the people and government agents supposed to be advocating for us, have caved to pressure and given us this completely unworkable plan.

The obvious site for the retention tanks is the Thomas Greene Park. The "Save the Park" petition going around has thrown up a smokescreen around the real issues of this space.

The Park sits on polluted soil and requires remediation in order to be safe – a project which could be folded into the Superfund cleanup, saving time and money. The NYC Parks Department has called the Park "underutilized" as it is, and at present the pool is only open two months out of the year. Impact on the community would therefore be minimized. I believe this option WOULD in fact be saving the Park. It's currently oozing liquid coal tar, for goodness sake! We should be jumping at this opportunity to get it remediated and clean for public use!

This win-win scenario has been rejected.

As an alternative, local developer Alloy has taken the unprecedented step of offering to donate a nearby parcel to City expressly for siting of the retention tanks, in return for certain considerations given to their proposed new office building project in the area.
I understand this solution would also result in additional parkland at the end of the project.

This, too, has been rejected with no explanation.

Eastern Effects at 242 Nevins Street, one of the properties under eminent domain threat by the City, has just put out a very moving letter outlining the devastation this thuggish move would have on their thriving local business and their investment in the area, impacting the local economy significantly. This is a thriving local business that our elected officials are supposed to be trying to protect!

As a well-known and successful film/TV production company, ejecting Easter Effects would be mud in the City's eye and terrible PR if nothing else. NYC likes to describe itself as supportive to the film and TV industry; hard to believe at this point.

Eastern Effects included an overhead diagram showing three alternate sites nearby that would be better choices for the siting of the retention tanks. I have yet to hear any reasoning for why these sites have not been considered viable options.

Please, do not bow to the crooked demands of one of the main responsible parties for the polluted state of the canal in the first place, to the great detriment of the community you are supposedly trying to improve. Don't waste our time, our money, and our goodwill on a process that purports to be transparent, yet so blatantly rejects community input for obvious selfish gain. Be the force for good that we believed you to be, the reason why we expended so much energy and overcame so many seemingly impossible obstacles to bring our polluted canal to national attention.

Do the right thing and reject this agreement.

Thank you,

Becky X

I hope that others will be inspired to write to EPA as well. As I mentioned, the comment period ends on May 31st, so time is of the essence.

Please address your comments to:
Walter Mugdan, U.S. EPA Superfund Director
290 Broadway, 19th Flr.,
New York, NY 10007
email: mugdan.walter@epa.gov



Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Stop Eminent Domain from Closing our Studio!": Eastern Effects Asks Community For Help In Fighting City's Plan To Seize 270 Nevins Street

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Eastern Effect's Movie and TV studios at 270 Nevins Street, Gowanus
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Philip Warren and Scott Levy of  Eastern Effects at  Tuesday's Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group meeting.
As part of the Gowanus Canal Superfund clean-up, the City of New York and EPA have negotiated a
proposed agreement to situate one of the two retention tanks mandated in the Record of Decision at the head of the Canal rather than at the EPA suggested site which is under the pool in Thomas Greene Park.

The City's plan relies on the taking of two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, by eminent domain. A third site, 270 Nevins Street will most likely also be seized by the City, which plans to use it for staging purposes during the construction project.

This would displace Eastern Effects, a successful film and television studio, where many commercials, movies and television shows like  FX's "The Americans" are filmed.

Eastern Effects' founder and president Scott Levy and the studio's general manager Philip Warren attended last Tuesday's Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group's general meeting to make sure the community knew that the closing would mean a 50% loss of business and therefore real hardship. It would also represent  a loss of about 200 union jobs during filming and 31 full-time jobs.
In addition, the company contributes, by their estimate, approximately four million dollars ($4,000,000) per year to the local economy.

Levy argued that it makes little sense for the City to seize the site for temporary use, when Eastern Effects has plowed millions into the building to meet all stage 2 requirements and can support New York City's booming film and movie industry.
"I have invested millions of dollars and have spent three of the most grueling years of my life building this studio," Levy told members of the CAG.  "We did everything we needed to do."
He talked about receives calls every day for studio space, but has to turn production companies down because his are fully booked. Apparently, 46 television productions are currently filming in New York City and are competing for space.
The City of New York has recently notified Eastern Effect that it would be forced to cease operations at 270 Nevins Street.   "The City did not come to us to talk about any of this,' Levy said.  "It was news to us and was announced as 'an agreement between the EPA and the City'.  We were shocked and upset because no one came to us. Only one person from the City came to do a walk through of the building. So it was time for us to do something to protect ourselves."

Eastern Effects is asking the community's help in saving the 270 Nevis Street building, their studios, their investment and local jobs.
"We have no issue with the building of the tank. We understand that the tank is part of the clean-up that is needed for the City and for this local area," said Levy. "We are not here to debate that, but we think we are an afterthought when it comes to where to put a staging site to support that tank."
Rather, Levy makes the point that there are alternatives to the City's proposed plan. Currently, there are several building  located directly adjacent to the lots the City plans to seize by eminent domain, which are currently empty and/or for sale.
That includes 537 Sackett Street, which is located directly across the street from Eastern Effects and is currently empty.

Levy and Warren provided the community with the map pictured above, which shows some alternative sites that could be used by the City.
Eastern Effects also issued the following statement:

Keep Jobs in Gowanus – Stop Eminent Domain from Closing our Studio!
Background:
Eastern Effects, Inc. a film and television production studio adjacent to the Gowanus Canal, was recently notified by the City that it would be forced to cease operations and close in order for the property to be used as a temporary staging area for the construction of two combined sewage overflow (CSO) tanks required to clean up the canal. The Gowanus Canal was designated as a Superfund site by the EPA in 2010.

Eastern Effects leases property at 270 Nevins Street (between Sackett and Degraw Street). The studio is in the 5th year of a 20-year lease. The studio hosts over 230 well-paying jobs, utilizes local vendors, and is the setting for the hit television series The Americans.

There are underutilized and vacant properties surrounding the area that are viable alternatives for this temporary staging location. We propose that the City evaluate such sites, saving the studio from closure and maintaining New York City’s position as a leader in the film and television production industry.

Reasons to Support an Alternate Staging Site:
*Eastern Effects invested over $5 million and three years of exhaustive work in the building at 270 Nevins Street to create a state-of-the-art facility that meets the City’s stringent Level 2 stage requirements to accommodate large scale shows —the type of soundstage that productions are actively seeking in New York City. This is the company’s Flagship Studio.

*Eastern Effects is committed to Brooklyn: all five of the company’s buildings are located in the borough—four buildings are located in Gowanus and one building is currently under construction in East New York.

*Since 2009, Eastern Effects has partnered with Brooklyn Workforce Initiative to provide training and job opportunities in the film industry through the Made in NY PA Training Program. Graduates of the program are currently working on the set of The Americans. Eastern Effects also hires graduates of BWI’s CDL driver training, Red Hook on the Road.

*The site supports over 230 jobs, most of which are union. These union employees are represented by: IATSE Locals 600, 5, 817, 700, 161, 829, 764, 798, WGA, DGA, and SAG/AFTRA. Eastern Effects has 31 direct full-time employees, 3 part-time employees, and is planning an expansion this summer.

*Soundstages are unique facilities that require large, open floor plates, high ceilings, and costly specialized infrastructure. There are no viable alternatives to move the stage in Gowanus. The loss of the Flagship Studio will impact Eastern Effects’ nearby production offices, editing suites, writer’s offices, and support spaces.

*The film and television industry wants to be in New York City. A 2015 report showed that the industry brings $8.7 billion into the local economy, with 46 series produced in the five boroughs during the 2014-2015 season. The spending on production creates a ripple effect in the city’s economy, indirectly supporting an additional 20,000 full-time jobs.

*Production companies currently report difficulty in finding adequate studio space in New York City. If they cannot find space, these productions will turn to other cities, costing New York State jobs and valuable tax revenue.


Meanwhile, our elected officials already threw their support behind the agreement between EPA and the City Of New York, in which the City proposes the taking by eminent domain of 234 Butler Street, 242 Nevins Street, as well as 270 Nevins Street.
New York City Council Member Brad Lander, New York City Council Member Stephen Levin, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, and New York State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, issued a statement "supportive of the approach described in the proposed agreement"

New York City has already signed the agreement, but the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group has asked the EPA for a public comment period before the Federal Government signs it.
Members of the community can send their own comments on the agreement and I strongly encourage you to do so. Please mail to :

Walter Mugdan,
U.S. EPA Superfund Director 290 Broadway, Floor 19, New York, N.Y., 10007 mugdan
or email to : mugdan.walter@epa.gov

To read the agreement between the EPA and New York City, please visit:
https://semspub.epa.gov/work/02/395808.pdf

Click here to write a letter of support for Eastern Effects



Please Honor Our Veterans At Memorial Day Ceremony In Carroll Park

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Everyone here in the neighborhood knows the beautiful war memorial that stands in the center of Carroll Park, but few take the time to read the long list of names on the two bronze plaques attached to the side of the monument, commemorating those Carroll Gardeners who died in the service of this country.
This Memorial Day, let's take a moment to remember Franky Manning, Joseph Milori, Pasquale Muscillo and their comrades . Read on:

Memorial Day Ceremony In Carroll Park
Monday, May 30st  at 11 am
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance.

"It is a day to honor our nation’s war dead. It is a day to honor our veterans. It is a day to pray for the safe return of all those presently serving in our military. Join us as we honor their sacrifice
and as we place a wreath at the war memorial monument."


'The Danish Café' Opening Soon On Smith Street

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Amidst the many recent closings on Smith Street in the past few months, it is nice to report on a new eatery, which is settling in.
"The Danish Café" will be opening its doors at 138 Smith Street, which had previously been occupied by White Oak and Apartment.
According to the web site, the owners, Lone & Claudi, are a danish couple from a small island in
Denmark called Bornholm.  It is the second outpost for The Danish Café. The first one is located in Red Bank, New Jersey. Lone & Claudi's  story:
"We have during the years spent a lot of holidays in the US and has come to love the country and its people. It may seem as a big step, and it sure is, but when we had the opportunity to follow our dream
of living in the US, we gladly took it. We have a background of running a hotel in Denmark and even though  it is a totaly different country, we have many things in common. We wanted to present a piece of Denmark to the american people and hen the idea of a danish cafe' came up.
Now we hope, that you, our costumers, will like what we have to offer and
​look forward to welcome you in The Danish Cafe
."

The café will offer breakfast lunch and dinner as well as week-end brunch.  The menu includes baked goods, sandwiches and wraps and there will be a bar.

The concept is simple, but it may just work on Smith Street if the prices are reasonable. What do you think?


Monday, May 23, 2016

Picture Of The Day: T'is The Time Of Roses

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Spotted on President Street.
Carroll Gardens is never as beautiful as when the roses bloom.


Great Fun At The Carroll Park Fair 2016 This Past Saturday

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Kathleen Henderson, the 'Carroll Park Lady' taking charge of the bouncy house.
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Kathleen will be back in Carroll Park this July.
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The PS 58 crossing guard at her table selling her wares.
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Mélanie of labrooklynoise.com with her daughter
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Ashley Holt of sugarmonstersweets.com
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One of Sugar Monster Sweets' unique creations
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Members of Smith Street Stage, Carroll Park's very own Shakespeare company
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Gary and Sarah of Friends of Carroll Park
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Bruce and Glenn, more Friends of Carroll Park

Despite the cool weather and the mid-afternoon rain shower this past Saturday, the 2016 Carroll Park Fair was great fun. Whether selling, bargain hunting or just browsing, the fair is always a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and to re-connect to old friends.

The fair is hosted every year by Friends of Carroll Park, the non-for profit, all volunteer group that keeps our park looking its best. The event is the group's biggest fundraiser and all monies raised will go to programming and plants for the park.


Did you stop by? Did you find a great buy?

Friday, May 20, 2016

"Song Of Lahore": Critically Acclaimed Documentary By Carroll Gardens Filmmaker Released in Theaters Today


Andy Schocken and Wynton Marsalis during filming
photo credit: Wasif Arshad
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Filmmaker and cinematographer Andy Schocken in Carroll Gardens

This week-end, Carroll Gardens filmmaker and cinematographer Andy Schocken will be celebrating the theatrical release of his documentary Song of Lahore, which he co-directed with Pakistani journalist, filmmaker and activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

'Song Of Lahore' tells the story of Izzat Majeed, who founded Sachel Studio in 2004, to help keep his country's once rich musical heritage alive despite Pakistan's Islamization,  and political unrest.
In an increasingly conservative culture where music is deemed sinful and where there are few opportunities for musicians to perform, Majeed encourages a group of classically-trained musicians to once again pick up their instruments and to form an orchestra.

The musicians recorded several classical and  traditional folk albums before Majeed, who had heard Dave Brubeck  perform in Pakistan in 1958 as part of a Jazz Diplomacy Tour sponsored by the US State Department, convinced the Sachel Studio Orchestra to record a version of  "Take Five".
A video of the orchestra playing this jazz classic on their traditional instruments spread quickly and garnered international attention when it was shown on BBC One.  This led to an invitation by Wynton Marsalis to come to New York, and after a week of rehearsal the Sachel Studio Orchestra found themselves performing with Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center
The film follows the musicians on this remarkable journey from Lahore to the international stage.  

'Song Of Lahore'  has been shown to critical acclaim at film festivals around the world.  It will be released in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today.

Here in New York, it will be shown at Village East Cinema. Tickets are available here.
Schocken and  Obaid-Chinoy will both be attending a question and answer session tonight following the 7:25 pm show.

Universal Music will also be releasing a companion album to Song of Lahore, featuring Sachal Studios collaborating with Western recording artists like Wynton Marsalis,  Sean Lennon, Nels Cline (Wilco) and Jim James (My Morning Jacket). The album is available for presale on Amazon.

I would like to thank Andy Schocken for taking time to meet with PMFA to talk about his remarkable film.  I hope everyone will go see it this week-end.