Saturday, December 29, 2012

RIP, Mahal

The sudden death of Mahal -- Milwaukee County Zoo's 5-year old orphaned orangutan -- has hit us hard.

Since his arrival in Milwaukee, my wife and I have enjoyed visiting the zoo and watching him grow. He was a  treasure.

If you have lived in Milwaukee the past 5 years and haven't seen and watched Mahal play behind his glass, you really missed a zoological treat. Mahal was precious. He was funny, person-like, cute, energetic, curious and a real ham.

We've been zoological members nearly the entire time he's been alive. Just Christmas Day we considered going to the zoo. I recall saying, "I haven't seen Mahal in a while. I miss that guy!"

That was only four days ago. How I wish we would have went.

There were many times we would visit the zoo and just watch Mahal for an entire hour. We'd struggle unsuccessfully to snap a photo of him -- he was always on the move! Getting him to sit still for a picture was nearly impossible. He was every bit as curious about the world around him as any 5-year old. He'd hang from a branch upside-down and smile at his admirers. Or bury himself in straw then suddenly pop out in an effort to surprise his surrogate mother, MJ. We would all laugh.

People would watch him for a bit, but I couldn't resist telling them the story: Mahal was rejected by his biological mother. He was flown to Milwaukee with the hope that Milwaukee's female orangutan, MJ, would care for and raise him. And care for him she did! Wherever Mahal went in their home, MJ was close to follow. Always prepared to protect him from peril and admonish his trespasses -- MJ was the ultimate guardian.

Such a good mother she was too. She will be devastated.

Watching MJ and Mahal was not only fun, but it was educational  It was hard not to watch their interactions and see human-like caring and nurturing. They are intelligent creatures, not your normal feces-tossing furry primates. They are deliberate, delicate and intelligent beings, exhibiting the same care for each other as us humans do. Their behavior fascinated me, and I learned from them.

I hope, somehow, MJ can carry on and maybe even adopt another parental rejected infant. If there can be an upshot, this will be it.

Mahal, you were special. You were more than a zoo animal in a cage to us. You exhibited youthful exuberance and innocence in its purest form. That's why it was such a joy to see you. You will be forever missed --greatly, and to be remembered eternally.

Thank you for showing us the best that we humans can hope to be -- innocent, pure and playful.

RIP, Mahal.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

Courtesy of Sobelman's Pub & Grill, we went to the Milwaukee Bucks game last night. It was great to win the tickets on short notice and we were excited to go to the game--I've had more than normal interest in the Bucks this year. They have an exciting team. Plus, I cut cable TV--if I want to see the Bucks, I have to either go to a bar or the arena!

Unfortunately though, the Bucks laid an egg. Maybe it was the previous night's overtime victory over the Celtics in Boston that wore the team out. They played lethargically. Brandon Jennings was only 3 for 13 shooting. Yeesh. That's terrible.

Regardless, here's the thing that disappointed me: fans streaming for the exits with six and half minutes to go in the 4th quarter with Bucks only down 10. C'mon. I've seen enough basketball games to know 10 points is not an insurmountable deficit to make up in six minutes. Heck, I've seen 10 points made up in less than two minutes.

I'll never forget Game One of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals in New York, Reggie Miller amazingly scored 8 points against the Knicks in the final 18.7 seconds: a 3, followed by stealing the inbounds pass and another 3 to tie the game and 2 free throws, erasing the Knicks' 105-99 lead and stealing the game 107-105. That was great.

And you know who missed it? All the fans that didn't stick around to the end. 

Why do people do this? My take is if you are ever going to attend an exciting sporting event, a come-from-behind victory in the final minutes is going to be the most memorable one. Sure, more often than not you will still leave disappointed that your team lost, but every once in a while you'll experience a great comeback.

Very seldom do I leave a game before it's over. And over the years, I've been treated to a couple great games. 

Lastly, if we are fans, shouldn't we support our team till the end? I mean, fans streaming towards the exits six minutes before the game's end doesn't send a very good signal to the team, does it? Maybe us fans could influence a game's outcome by energetically supporting our team and imploring them to play well. But no, instead we mumble obscene epithets about overpaid millionaires and stream for the exits.

I think that's too bad. It's jaded. And I'm not going to be a fan that way.

Go Bucks! Shake it off and return to winning form against the Nets on Wednesday night!

Thanks again, Sobelmans, for the tickets too!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Top 12 Albums of 2012

2012 was a great music year for me. Not only did I break some personal ground and get involved with a band and play music in public settings (pubs!), but I also listened to a TON of new music, mostly thanks to cutting cable television and subscribing to rdio. (Seriously folks. Cut cable TV from your life. You'll miss it only a little, but gain so much more.)

My top 12 albums of the year, with a few short notes on each, follow. You'll notice a decidedly hard rock bent to my favorites. Why? I missed good, loud, shake-a-fist in the air Rock and Roll the past few years. Too many pop artists or shoe-gazing, acoustic troubadours seem to have populated the music landscape the past few years. This year a few new bands picked up the Rock and Roll torch and carried it. Not only new bands, but a few veterans got back in the game with solid records too.

So without further adieu, here's my top 12 albums of 2012!

Hands down, my favorite album of the year is Japandroids' Celebration Rock. Spatial, soaring, melodic, jangly, driving -- all of my favorite rock adjectives apply to their debut album. I love it.



Exactly the opposite of Japandroids are Swedish sisters First Aid Kit making music Americana music reminiscent of Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. Different however, in their beautiful harmonies. The Lion's Roar's  "Emmylou" is my favorite song of the year. It's just gorgeous and pays homage to four great American artists too.



The Smashing Pumpkins roar back with Oceania. This album has no filler. It's Corgan and whatever company he's with back at what they do best: big, loud, expansive arena rock. I think it's fantastic.



Bob Mould, a long-time veteran and founding member of Hüsker Dü and Sugar, returns to brilliance with Silver Age. Might the "silver" in Silver Age refer to the color of his hair? Matters not. Bob returns to the spotlight and gets me to pull out all of my old Hüsker Dü and Sugar albums and reminds me why I fell in love with his music 20 years ago (or more!) in the first place.



Green Day. No kidding. The veteran punkers return to making short(ish), punk-pop songs that are a punch in the gut. I loved their Grammy winning rock and roll opera album American Idiot, but it's cool to see them kind of say with this album "Step aside, youngsters. Let us show you how it's done." I've never heard the band tighter and punchier and if it weren't for one song ("Kill the DJ"), this album would be pop rock perfection.



I hesitated putting The Lumineers' tremendous debut album on this list for fear that, reminiscing about the album, their irresistible tunes would be stuck in my head again until March 23rd. No matter ... it's worth it! "Ho Hey" or "Flowers in Your Hair" may be the songs that introduced many of us to the catchy Americana sounds of The Lumineers, but songs like "Stubborn Love" show me that this band is much more than 2 minute catchy melodies. In fact, I was so consumed by "Stubborn Love" mid-Summer that I easily listened to it over a hundred times while learning to sing and play it on my guitar.



Alabama Shakes' Boys and Girls is probably my most listened to album on this entire list. It actually took a little while to grown on me, but once it did, it's hold was unbreakable. It's mainly due to the powerhouse vocals of Brittany Howard. Watching YouTube videos of her captivated me. Such energy and sheer vocal strength. The day tickets went on sale for their late November show in Milwaukee went on sale, I snagged a pair. A few months went by and I nearly forgot why I was so determined why to get tickets to the show ... then I saw it. Wow. Ms. Howard blew me away. And the band was tight. I saw a few good shows this year, but this one is hard to top. I'll see them again at the drop of a hat.



This was first big album of 2012 for me.  Erika Wennerstrom of The Heartless Bastards has an unmistakable voice and the band employs meaty, fuzzy guitar riffs not unlike Keith Richards' finest. This is a great "roll the windows down on a warm summer day, crank to 11 and drive around the country" kind of album. Unfortunately I saw them at Summerfest and was disappointed. The music was perfectly played, but their stage presence was non existent. Someone should check the Leinenkugel's stage -- maybe they're still nailed to the floor in the same place. Still, a wonderful album.



For me, a highlight of 2012 was meeting Kristian Matsson -- The Tallest Man on Earth -- on the street outside of the Pabst Theater last Summer. The ironically named artist is not tall, but he is ENORMOUS in sound. Not only was his one-man show enthralling, his 2012 release There's No Leaving continued his songwriting and guitar mastery that dominated his earlier releases. I'm a huge fan. Kristian's future releases will continue to be day-of-release purchases for me.



Only within the past few weeks have I discovered and fallen for this album. An indy supergroup of sorts with members from Deer Tick (and/or Middle Brother), The Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and Six Finger Satellite, this album has a real Devil-may-care attitude. It swaggers and has a gritty honky tonk feel. I've been spinning it a ton the last month of the year instead of listening to Christmas music. "Hungover and Horny" may not be a Christmas tune, but it sure has got a toe-tappin' beat!



My favorite band of the new millennium -- The Avett Brothers -- released a new album after a nearly 5 year wait. It was worth the wait. It's stellar.



Hospitality's Hospitality sounds like nothing else on this list. Listening to it, one could well expect to forget what year it is. It has a bit of retro Brit-pop and Brook-pop sound (the band is from Brooklyn) with a lot of space between instruments. Listening with headphones, one can clearly hear the bass in the left corner of the room, the guitar in the right, and the vocals and drums right in the center.



It's hard to know when to stop listing albums I enjoyed last year. Others include Divine Fits, King Tuff, and Of Monsters and Men. These artists' albums also were played with heavy rotation.

I hope 2013 brings another year of great new music and a year from now I'll be listing my top 13 Albums of 2013!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Song Reader. Genius.

What an awesome idea!

There are many great musicians in the world -- some I know, but unfortunately, many I've yet to discover.

One, however, I do know - and you do too, I think - has done something positively unique. Yet you're likely to ever hear of it. Especially on the radio.

The artist? The incomparable Beck.

The project? "Song Reader." A sheet music book of Beck's songs, only he isn't giving us, the listeners ... er, readers ... the opportunity to hear his version of these songs. Nope. He is leaving the audible portion of his work up to interpretation by other musicians - professional and amateur alike.

Genius. And a visit to the website for the album -- http://songreader.net/ -- is where one can go to hear others' versions of Beck's written work.

It's reminds me of the Irish pub sessions I take part in: amateur musicians sitting is a circle and taking turns playing their interpretation of songs, Irish or otherwise. Songreader.net is a little like a virtual campfire sing-along.

How cool will it be for us (me, a self-proclaimed "hack") musicians  to record these songs at the tempo, tone, and style that we think sound best? Piano? Guitar? Cello? Will we match the sound that Beck had in his mind? Or will we bring a completely new twist to the melody he dreamt?

I don't know. But I do think his idea to release an album without sound is one of the purest, fresh musical ideas I've heard of in long while. I'd like to get my hands on that book, my guitar, a recorder and let my creative juices flow. After recording a song, I'd love to heat others' interpretations of the same.

Updated (Jan 3. 2013): I see the Portland Cello Project recorded all 20 songs from Song Reader and posted them to their Soundcloud site. https://soundcloud.com/portlandcelloproject/sets/portland-cello-project-play

The following videos are a great example of the project. Numerous artists perform and upload Beck's Old Shanghai. I particularly enjoy the Seattle Rock Orchestra's interpretation!






Monday, December 10, 2012

You Know What Fish Do in a Fishbowl, Right?

Traveling, I'm always on the lookout for a unique place to dine and have an adult beverage. In Waco, Texas, I see this place called "Trojan Cork & Keg." By name alone it sounds like a place that I'd probably like. I mean, I like spirits aged in kegs and bottled with corks. However, a quick review of Yelp and I see "84oz fishbowl filled with the perfect blend of alcohol and mixers and blue in color to make it look like a real fishbowl!" and "My favorite, however, has to be their infusion shots."

Thank you, Yelp, for making my decision for me and guess what? Tonight I'll dine instead at the Holiday Inn Northwest Bar & Restaurant. I saw they had beers on draught, hamburgers and HDTVs. That's all this weary business traveler needs.

And I'm usually pretty adventurous guy, but I have no desire to have a drink that looks like a fishbowl nor do I ever care to try an infusion shot. Not today. Not ever.

Call me old fashioned.

Hey, an old fashioned. Now there's a tasty cocktail!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who's Preserving Whom?

My wife and I went out exploring on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Leaving the house with no particular direction, we somehow would up on Milwaukee's south side and drove past a place in the shadow of the Greendale's Crystal Ridge Ski Area: The Timberwolf Preservation Society (map).

Driving past, we said, "What the heck is that?" With only one way to find out -- we turned the car around and pulled into the preserve.

Our first 5 minutes on the the grounds may have been the most interesting. A fellow cloaked in Packers gear immediately told us that no photography was allowed and that we should stay away from the fence as Washo -- the Alpha male -- was agitated.

Inside of a small building we handed a lady $5 each as our guide suited up for the walk around the preserve. 

Exiting the building, Mr. Packer kept waving us to keep moving. Standing about 15 yards from the cage Washo and Loki call home, we quietly discussed the preserve with our guide. Silently, the Packers-garbed fellow kept waving us to move farther away from the fence. Any further away and we would have been back to the parking lot!

Our guide moved as along to another row of fenced cages where we weren't permitted to get any closer than 10 yards. Again, she kept talking about the wolves being agitated. 

We were the only ones visiting the preserve. I failed to see how we were agitating the wolves any more than the busloads of student groups that visit there on occasion. And I asked what was going to happen if the wolves became agitated. Were they going to hop the fence and attack us or what?

Apparently they'll just stress out and pace around a lot. And if one wolf does this, the other wolves will too.

Finally the wolves' keeper approached us. Moments earlier we saw her feeding large chunks of chicken jerky to the wolves. She would also reach through the fence and scratch their backs with vigor. 

She explained that she had been with the five sibling male wolves every single day of their 11 years. Just a few days after they were born she was bottle feeding them, and since then has been the only one allowed to clean the animals' fenced pens and inspect the wolves. She makes certain to wear the same clothes, clean herself with the same soap and use the same shampoo so that her scent is always familiar to the wolves.

One time, the guide explained, that the keeper had returned from a public event to which she wore mascara. Upon entering one of the wolf's pens, the wolf approached her, sniffed her, sniffed her face, and then proceeded to take its front teeth and gently, systematically remove the mascara from her lashes.

No way would I ever let that happen! I'd be outta that pen faster than you can say "Big, bad wolf!"

It was clear to us that this place does care about their wolves, but after leaving, and having a chance to ruminate a bit, we wondered, what are they preserving there? The timberwolves? Or their own little hobby? Call it a "preserve," charge visitors $5 and use patrons' dough to help feed your pets. I mean they've got 5 male wolves, all brothers separated by fences, with no chance of procreating -- I don't see how this is preserving the species. 

Maybe 45 years ago, when the preserve was founded, it made sense. Timberwolves then, were greatly endangered. However today they have been successfully reintroduced and are again roaming Wisconsin and Minnesota's northwoods. In fact, there's enough now that there even is a hunting season for them. 

My thought is that this "preserve" has run its course. If may have helped successfully preserve the species during their leanest times. However, today it serves little purpose as an amusing hobby for its proprietors. And it does seem to be a rather inhumane way of treating this noble, albeit fierce, animal.

Let the 5 wolves currently captive live out their lives and call it a day for The Timberwolf Preservation Society. No need to pen up anymore wolves.

That's my opinion, anyway.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's a Zero-Zero Ballgame!

Watching the Badgers throttle Nebraska reminds me of a funny story. It brings a smile to my face every time I think of it.

I played football all throughout high school. Every team I ever played on was pretty good. In fact, my Junior year we went to the Wisconsin State Finals and played at Camp Randall only to fall prey to a powerful opponent with a beast of a running back (I still hate you, Deforest).

Being a good team meant we heard certain things from our coach with regularity. One of coach's common halftime sayings was "Okay, boys. It's a zero-zero ballgame. Now let's go out there and execute!"

The reason he would say that is, we usually went into the locker room at halftime with a nice lead. "Zero-zero ballgame" meant that we should not rest on the first half's success, but approach the 2nd half like the game was tied. Stay focused, execute the game plan and, when the game was finally over and we were victorious, only then could we relax and celebrate.

I had a teammate who wasn't one of my favorites. He was a bit goofy and, when we were younger and I was a lot smaller than him, he would bully me. I never forgot his bullying and even when we were older, similarly sized, and he stopped picking on me, I still resented him.

For the sake of this story, we'll call him Johnson.

During my Senior year we had a problem with one of our opponents. So much so that we went into halftime down a considerable amount. I can't remember how much we were down, but it was probably about 13 points.

Anyway, in the locker room, Johnson starts yelling at his teammates, "Okay guys. It's a zero-zero ballgame!"

The coach hears him and shouts for all to hear, "Shut the hell up, Johnson. We're getting our asses kicked! We're down by 13 points and we got to go out there and play some catch up ball!"

Man, did I snicker. I took the game and our deficit pretty seriously, but when I heard that, I couldn't help but crack up. 

Johnson. 

What a dumbass.

:)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just Sing, Little Darling, Sing With Me

I can't stop listening to this song.

The song? First Aid Kit's "Emmylou." Not only is it a beautiful song penned by two Swedish sisters, these young women wrote one of my favorite choruses that I've ever heard:


I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June 
If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too. 
No, I’m not asking much of you 
Just sing, little darling, sing with me.


Emmylou (Harris), June (Carter Cash), Gram (Parsons), and Johnny (Cash). Heck, Gram Parsons died 17 years before the oldest First Aid Kit sister was even born! That they could write a song referencing Gram is further testament to just how great The Grievous Angel's--Keith Richards' best buddy--music was.

And "Just sing, little darling, sing with me." is such a gorgeous line. It's the essence of love, isn't it?

I'm not asking much of you, just sing, little darling, sing with me.

Perfect. Simple. Beautiful.

To those who say that great music is dead, I say you're wrong. And Johanna and Klara Söderberg present my exhibit "A."

Enjoy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I'm (not) an Anchorman!

I am used to embarrassing myself. In fact, I do it quite regularly and, of all the things I do well, making a fool of myself is something I do with aplomb.

However, today I did it again, but completely unintentionally and entirely quite professionally.

Yep. Today I was the world's court jester. The only thing missing was the funny harlequin costume with the little bells on my curled-toe stocking feet.

What did I do that was so embarrassing?

Spoke in 2-minute increments (more like 30 seconds, actually) to a video camera.

And I did this twice. Once each for competing trade journals.

Oh sure, they say it's easy. Just "act natural and pretend you're talking to a customer."

Right.

It ain't as easy it looks.

The videographer would say, "3. 2. 1 and ... Go!" and I would announce myself like this:

"Hi! My name is Gore Snooklocker and I'm bergenfletzer flatzenkatz to be here. Our thingy here does things exceptionally gooder than the other guys, umm ... Did I say my name already? Can we try that again? Dang. This is hard!!"

No kidding. Every time I tried I failed. My brain and my mouth were completely out of sync. Why does this happen? I talk all the time and, usually, quite sensibly, but turn the camera on and I become a blubbering idiot.

Stop snickering, some of you that know me well. You know who you are. You're the ones saying, "Sensibly talking usually? Right. More like blubbering fool all the time!" But the truth is, once the camera is turned on, I can't even blubber well. Nerves take over and I freeze.

Dang it. I did this, too, right in front of a bunch of people and now I'm told these 2 videos will be distributed tomorrow or the next day to at least 100,000 potential viewers!

I hope those video editors are gifted. Maybe somehow they can take that jabbering incoherence and turn it into something useful.

At least I said, "Hi!" well.

I think.



Sunday, October 21, 2012

Oh, Life's Changing Priorities

I never thought this would happen. I am going to miss a Packer game. I am going to miss a Packer game to do something I'd prefer to do more.

Since about 1977, I've only missed Packer games due to work or travel. I'm guessing here, but that's probably between 10 and 15 games, and definitely less than 20 (yep, including Super Bowl XLV -- I missed the darn Super Bowl!). However, as I age and my free time has become even more valuable, I've decided that there are actually better things to do on a lovely Sunday October afternoon than sit in front of a TV for 4 hours.

This assessment was fortified two weeks ago while watching the Packers lose to the Colts 30-27 on a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon that took 3 hours and 45 minutes from kick-off to conclusion.

Throw in a little pre-game coverage and my butt and the couch were inseparable for nearly 5 hours!

Unacceptable.

Today we have the fortune to golf one of Wisconsin's great courses: the Jack Nicklaus designed The Bull at Pinehurst Farms. My wife won a round for two at "The Bull" during the 2012 season at a golf outing earlier this year. Our busy weekends have ticked by and the available golfing weekends are soon coming to a close. Today is finally the day. We're going to say "The heck with the Packer game, let's go golfing!"

Last night I told my wife's lifelong Sconnie cousin that we were going to go golfing instead of watching the Packers game.

You know what he said to me after that?

"Unacceptable."

Regardless, GO PACK!! Albeit, from the golf course. ;)

Monday, October 8, 2012

The McDonald's Mentor

What an inspiring, awesome and incredulous lunch I had today ... and at McDonald's, too.

Who would have thought that was possible?

No, it wasn't McDonald's food that inspired. You know that -- it's just the same old burger, fries, and a Coke. Which, by the way, I had an enormous craving for today. (Criticize if you will, foodies, health nuts and anti-corporate types, but a Big Mac every now and is just the cure for what ails ya!)

What inspired was a conversation that I could not help but overhear. There were two guys having a loud conversation that rivaled the vocal volume of any 3-piece suit wearing, cell phone yappin', I'm-closing-the-big-deal-and-I-think-everyone-in-Concourse-C-waiting-for-a-flight-to-Poughkeepsie-should-hear-about guys (Gosh, I hate those guys). I passed quick judgement at first glance and thought they were a couple of ne'er-do-wells that one would be wise to avoid in a dark alley, but as the moments passed and their conversation proceeded, it became clear to me that one was the mentor and one was the protégé.

The mentor spoke loudly in slow, carefully measured words. A few sentences in, I figured he was a simple man, but as he continued, I could see he was more wise than his tone indicated.

During the course of my lunch and their conversation, he urged the youth (about 20, I'm guessing) to take control of his life, modify his environment (get a home -- he had been sleeping on "friends" couches for the last two and half years), remove himself from bad influences and become accountable for his actions.  "Be a man. You're not a child anymore; no one will look out for you if you don't do it yourself," was one statement I recall. It didn't just end with words of encouragement -- the next stop he would take him was to an "Italian lady's place" where he could get a bed, fresh laundry and a new start on life. The Mentor said, "She's good people -- the kind you need right now in your life." Also, "You won't be able to pull anything passed her. She's wise and seen it all, so don't even try."

Unavoidably, I heard every word in this 15-minute conversation. As they were walking out the door, I had to do all I could to not jump up and shake the Mentor's hand. His direction was firm and definite and clearly something the younger adult needed to hear.

It was an amazing act of selflessness, commitment and caring. I was inspired and, so often when we hear bad news committed by even worse people, I was happy see such people still exist.

Even though I never formally met either of these fellows, I wish them both well. I hope the younger takes the older's advice and becomes a stand-up citizen and that kind fate shines upon the elder.

That's why I like to leave the office at noon. You never know what  adventure or experience awaits!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

When the Saints Go Marching In (to Milwaukee!)

Gosh I pack a lot into my Milwaukee weekends. This one was no exception: a nice dinner, a good pub, beautiful weather, Oktoberfest, game night with friends, golf and a Packers victory! It's a classic case of I-gotta-go-back-to-work-on-Monday-so-I-can-get-some-rest.

But of all the above, last night's Oktoberfest was a true and memorable highlight.

We went there to celebrate the last weekend of singledom for our friends Kiki and Dave. They're getting married this Friday at the same place my wife and I tied the knot: Hubbard Park Lodge! We are really looking forward to their wedding. They're a great couple. While at Oktoberfest, we also ran into a wonderful old friend whom we had not seen for too long. It was like old times. Lots of laughter about old times and catching up on what's new.

What really made the night memorable, however, was a busload of New Orleans Saints fans who had come up to Wisconsin with the ultimate goal of attending the Packers vs. Saints game taking place at Lambeau the next day. Their original plan was to go to 5 games in 4 days: White Sox, Blackhawks, Brewers, Packers (er, Saints), and Cubs (Blackhawks are out due to the NHL lockout). Upon arriving Milwaukee and checking into their hotel rooms, they had a few hours to kill before the Brewers game so their guide took them to the Bavarian Inn's annual Oktoberfest.

Man, this group had the time of their lives!

Adorned in hard hats with plastic rats rat eating a piece of yellow sponge (cheese?), they tore up Oktoberfest with reckless abandon. They were having so much fun, they forewent the Brewers game altogether. Said one fellow, "We are having so much fun! Why would we want to leave?"

And I was particularly proud of the Wisconsin Gemütlichkeit offered by the attendees and the German band: The Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band from Germantown, Wisconsin. The leader of the band acknowledged the New Orleans revelers and welcomed them to Milwaukee and Wisconsin. He then launched the band into some Dixieland Jazz followed by a rousing version of When the Saints Go Marching In. It was great. It was hard not to be smiling from ear to ear watching these guys and girls celebrate. One fellow, pictured to my right, said, "I'm thinking of selling my house and moving to Milwaukee!"

Another cool part was the band did an honorary song for veterans and current members of our armed forces. Despite all the dancing, singing, and partying, I stood with the Saints fans, I took off my woolen hat and they their sponge eating plastic rat-mounted hard hats, and we stood respectfully at attention while the band paid respects to our soldiers.

Very Classy. There are still good people in the world and that's nice to know.

Enjoy the video below. It wasn't the same as being there, but I'll think you'll feel the spirit.



Oh, and the answer to the question "Who dat der gonna beat them Saints?" Well, at least 4 teams this season, including the GREEN BAY PACKERS! ;)



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dunk You Very Much

Saturday, September 8th was a highlight-filled day. I spent the entire day in the village center of my town -- Wauwatosa, WI.

We have a great Farmers' Market every Saturday for about 5 months. Besides fresh fruit and vegetables, the market has a musical performance. Today, my newly formed band -- The Rogue 6 -- was the entertainment. I had a complete blast playing with my friends in this group. Typically we're six people -- hence the "6" in our band name -- but today we were only four. No matter. We have plenty of songs or "tunes" to choose from. We played for about 3 hours before going back into our set and choosing to replay a few songs. It was also great to see so many friends and family members come out to enjoy the day with us.

After our performance, we hung out at Wauwatosa's annual Tosa Fest. What a great time we had. Music, beer, food -- what a great way to celebrate the end of summer!

However, despite the fun I had playing and listening to music at the festival, it wasn't the day's highlight. No, the day's highlight was this: dunking local Wauwatosa Alderman Bobby Pantuso on the very first pitch thrown.

Yep. They announced Alderman Bobby would be entering the dunk tank. Tickets were six balls for $5. I instantly jumped in line to buy some balls. As luck would have it, I was the first to throw too.

A dry Bobby positioned himself atop the dunk tank drop board and I lined up my first pitch. I set my sights, reared back and let pitch number one go. BAM! I missed the target left ... but only a little. It hit the bar supporting the target and down went the Alderman!

One pitch, one dunk. Perfect. I'm so happy.

After that throw, a fellow came up and told me that I needed to move back. Pitches 2 through 5 were close, but I wasn't able to dunk the Alderman again. Pitch 6, however, glanced off the button, but it wasn't a direct hit enough to trigger the drop board.

No matter. After pitch number one, I could just have walked away.

That one was that sweet.

What a fun day!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I'm a Lucky Leprechaun

Milwaukee's Irish Fest is a perennial favorite for me. Like all of the best festivals, it has a kindred spiritits revelers all sharing smiles and the love of a good tune.

My day at Irish Fest yesterday was no different. Well, it was a little different. This year I donned a green plastic fedora and I painted my beard bright orange (spirit!). I also brought one of my guitars to the Fest to strum and sing some tunes with members of The Rogue Six. One of the membersMarkis using his local's knowledge of Ireland and its music to start Ireland Music Tours to provide his guests a custom guided tour of some of the best places to enjoy Irish music in Ireland. To put a little emphasis on the music part, we brought our instruments to his booth and played a little.

Early in the afternoon, I had a great time playing with Cindy (percussion) and Lori (fiddle). We ran through a handful of Irish tunes and songs. After our short set, my wife and I explored the rest of the fest.

We saw some great things: Milwaukee and Chicago's world-renowned Trinity Irish Dancers, banjo-playing brothers from Galway "The Banjo 3", and the bluegrass legend Del McCoury. In between, we observed many other great displays of Irish heritage and music. If it wasn't for our neighborhood block party, I'd be right back to the festival today.

Connor and I sing Whiskey in the Jar
However, the highlight of the day came late and rather unexpectedly. After a full circle of the grounds, we returned to Mark's booth. Naturally, after seeing all the great musicians at the fest, I had an urge to pick up my guitar and strum a few. While doing so, a family of threea mother and her two sons, one of which had Down Syndrome and a love for Irish Music as big as the Emerald Isle; his name is Connorapproached us and made a few song requests. While we could not fulfill them all, I was able to fulfill Connor's request for one of my favorites: The Fields of Athenry.

Of all the times I've ever strummed my guitar, none were ever as rewarding as singing and strumming The Fields of Atherny with Connor. I leaned over the rail of the booth and we sang together, eye-to-eye. Fortunately, I sang the song earlier in the day so the lyrics were still mostly in my memory and in the proper order (Quite a feat after a day of, umm...Irish cheer!).

After the song, we shook hands and thanked Connor's family for visiting and suggesting such a great song. A few more requests were made, but unfortunately, we weren't able to fulfill them to a satisfactory level. They thanked us and headed out for more Irish Fest fun.

Roughly an hour laterthe booth packed up and the guitars put away in casesConnor's family returned and Connor skipped all greeting formalities and just shouted "Whiskey In The Jar!"

"I know it!" I replied.

And with that, I took my little Gretsch back out of the case and asked Connor to join my in the seats behind the booth's table and we belted out Whiskey In The Jar.

Just like the song we did earlier, Connor and I locked eyes and sang out every verse with gusto. Connor particluarly would give it full force on the "Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da! Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o. There's whiskey in the jar!" part.

It wasn't until about a half an hour later did I realize just how meaningful this was to me. It was great to finally have years of playing guitar reward someone else besides me. I am proud to have performed these few songs with Connor and I hope he and his family had an Irish Fest filled with as much fun as I had in these few moments we shared.

It's going to be hard to top Irish Fest 2012.

For a few more pictures, click below.

120818 Irish Fest w Connor

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rules for Teachers in 1872

These Rules for Teachers from 1872 gave me a chuckle. They are posted on a historic building at the Aztalan Museum.
  1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
  2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the days's session.
  3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
  4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
  5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
  6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
  7. Every teacher should lay aside from each day pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
  8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public baths or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.
  9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.
With the exception of Rule #3 -- I am a pretty good nib whittler! -- I don't think I would have made it as a teacher in 1872!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Amazing Wisconsin!

What a great four days of pure Wisconsin I've just experienced.

I took a few days off of work to accompany my wife on a tour preview that visits Wisconsin Native American historic and cultural sites. On top of that, we had to cut our long weekend short so I could rush back to Milwaukee and debut with my new Irish music (mostly) band, The Rogue 6. On Sunday, my only "free" day of the four, I went to that most excellent of Milwaukee and Wisconsin traditions -- the Wisconsin State Fair!

Take a breath, grab a beverage and settle in for my recap. (In order, I think.)
  • Aztalan State Park - the site of an ancient Mississippian culture settlement that flourished during the 10th to 13th centuries. Possibly Wisconsin's most important archaeological site. 
  • Great pastries and coffee at a Lake Mills' Water House Foods - a fantastic little cafe/bistro in the heart of Lake Mills.
  • Man Mound Park in Sauk County. Like Aztalan, an amazing archaeological wonder of a 214' long man or ancient God. Sadly, farmers in the early 20th century plowed off the effigy mound's lower extremities and built a road through its knees. Still, a significant amount of the mound exists. Visit  http://www.saukcountyhistory.org/manmoundpark.html for more information and pictures.
  • Guitar shopping at Baraboo Music. Only walked out with a tuner and some guitar picks though.
  • Lunch at Baraboo's Garden Party Cafe. Truly some great soup served here and definitely home made. 
  • A meandering drive through the countryside from Baraboo to Antigo through rainy, stormy skies. It was a beatuiful and unique way to see Wisconsin.
  • A stop at the Langlade County Historical Society Museum in Antigo. We didn't go in the museum, but we enjoyed the walk around the permanently displayed  440 locomotive - the last steam engine to travel through Antigo in 1957. Awesome.
  • Drove through the Wisconsin's northwoods from Antigo to Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation (Ojibwe). More specifically, the Lake of the Torches Casino, where he had the good fortune to have won a two nights stay. Gambled a bit and didn't lose, so that's a win right there!
  • Pizza dinner at Lac du Flambeau's The New Flame where we enjoyed free apple pie shots with every Packers score (First preseason game -- fortunately, they didn't score very much!).
  • Minocqua Farmers' market.
  • Golfed 18 holes in Arbor Vitae at the scenic Trout Lake Golf Club - a northwoods course that's been around for 88 years!
  • Minocqua fun at Minocqua Brewing Company, Otto's Beer and Brat Garden, a Friday night fish fry at Matt Morgan's, a stop at the legendary Thristy Whale, where we watched Minocqua's Min-aqua Bats' waterski show from the pier on a remarkably chilly August evening, a visit to the beautiful Norwood Pines restaurant, and lastly, a stop at the rustic Black Bear Bar. Fun night!
  • Breakfast in Mincoqua at The Island Cafe. (Reviewed by me on Yelp!)
  •  Rushed back to Milwaukee so I could perform in the debut of a new band -- The Rogue 6, playing Celtic influenced music live at Milwaukee's Brocach Irish Pub (there's two Madison versions too). Again, another fun night. Super fun, even!
  • Slept in a bit, mowed the lawn and then rode bike to enjoy the final day of Wisconsin's mid-August extravaganza -- State Fair
I listed all of the above to demonstrate the wide variety of things there are to do and see in Wisconsin. Along the past 4 days, I've rubbed elbows with all types of Wisconsinites -- from the erudite to the unsophisticated -- and no matter whom, it was a pleasure. There is so much to see and do in this state, if I had a years's worth of 4-day weekends I couldn't see and do it all. 

I've lived here my entire life, and have traveled considerably, but every time I return, I am proud to call Wisconsin home.

Now I can't wait to return to work tomorrow to get a little rest! ;)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cool Your Paws, Crazy People

This news of the temple shooting and has been terribly saddening and troubling. My heart aches for those who have suffered loss in this senseless act. To take our minds off of it, we took a walk along the Menomonee River with Bailey. Here's a picture of a happy dog cooling her paws.

Nice, right?

People should be more like dogs. Rather than go nuts and harm people, take off your shoes and dip your feet in some cool water and soak up the Summer sunshine. Then go to Yo Mama's for some frozen yogurt.

All better.


Friday, July 27, 2012

British Media, You So Crazy!

This cracks me up.

Less than two weeks ago we were flooded with stories of how security at the upcoming Olympics was a grave concern and that the company (G4S) retained to hire and train security personnel was woefully understaffed. They originally were contracted to hire 2,000, but as security was evaluated, the number ballooned to 20,000. (Note: I've seen various figures here. I am not sure exactly what the total requirement is.) They fell short by roughly 3,500 persons and the government had to step in and bring in members of Army and local law enforcement to make up the difference.

West Midlands Police Federation chairman Ian Edwards said the situation was "chaos, absolute chaos."

On July 15th, the Mirror wrote "It's pathletic: Police and army seethe as G4S admits Olympic Games shambles."

As recently as July 18th, a writer for the UK's Guardian, Simon Hoggart, wrote "Olympic security boss couldn't plan a pig-out in a pie shop."

Also from the the Guardian on July 19th, writer Hugh Muir pens "Olympic fiasco. We'd name the guilty parties, but we'd run out of space."

Nick Buckles, the head of the G4S security firm that received an $89 million management fee to help police the Olympics, admitted the plan was "in shambles."

Ten days later, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney visits London and uses the word "disconcerting" to describe the security situation at the Olympics.

Today's British headlines? "Party Pooper" -- The Daily Mail, "Nowhere Man" -- The Times of London, and "Mitt the Twit" -- The Sun.

I'm not an apologist for Mitt Romney. While I lean conservative I can't admit to being Mitt's biggest fan; however, I find these criticisms ridiculous in light of the security disaster news our heads were filled with only 10 days ago. Also, Presidential aspirations aside, Mitt's qualifications do permit him to be one of the few qualified politicians to question security measures at the Olympic Games. After all, he was the President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics! A role that I assume came with significant responsibilities and scrupulous oversight requirements.

Maybe it's just the British media being, well, the British media.

That said, let the games begin and let's hope for a safe and successful London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Cheers!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Road ... er, Sidewalk Rage!

I had the opportunity to confront a horrible and rude driver this afternoon.

I did not waste it.

I was walking back to my office in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood from the Public Market. My route south was along the west side of Water/1st Street. I was crossing the street at Seeboth. While I was in the crosswalk, a southbound driver, wishing to turn right, slowed and yielded to me. However, behind her, a driver angrily beeped her horn and waved her fist at the yielding driver.

I damn near jumped out of my skin because the horn did what it was supposed to -- it startled me and, at first, I wasn't sure if the car blowing its horn wasn't the vehicle nearest me.

Moments later I reached the other side of the street, the yielding driver turned right and the jerk driver drove about, oh, 25 yards only to be stopped at the E. Pittsburgh traffic light.

My heart still pounding from the surprise and rage, I yelled in her open passenger window, "What was the horn for?!"

"It wasn't at you," she replied.

"Then who?" was my retort.

"The car in front of me."

"What? She was supposed to run me over?!"

I believe she felt a pang of guilt and stopped looking directly at me. "Sorry," she sheepishly replied.

Sadly this one small incident reflects life in America today. Few are civil, even less are respectful. Try legally parallel parking your car on a busy Milwaukee street sometime; you'll see what I mean. You'll get three horns, a shaken fist and two middle fingers in the time it takes for you to put your car in reverse.

My friend Sara, in the wake of the horrible shootings said "People are broken." I think she's right. I'm generally optimistic, but I've seen little lately that gives me reason to be.

Excuse this terse post. It's a beautiful Friday, but with the awful news out of Colorado and the general incivility in Milwaukee, I'm a little grumpy today.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Forget Dueling Pianos ... Dueling Stages!

Performer dependent, last night was likely the last time I'll ever go to a show at the Marcus Amphitheater during Summerfest.

Here's the problem: sound bleedover between the new BMO Harris Pavilion and the Marcus.

To some, this may be a small, maybe even unnoticeable, phenomenon, but to me it darn near ruins the entire concert experience. There were times last night, it fully ruined it for me.


David Gray performed at the BMO last week and instagrammed that it was a "cluster****." (See: http://instagram.com/p/MueMElD_ke/) I saw the Avett Brothers last Thursday at the BMO while Zac Brown was playing the Marcus and didn't notice anything, but that's probably because I had good seats, was under the pavilion roof, and the Avetts didin't play (m)any ballads. I imagine Gray's set with Iron Maiden must've been a joke.

While Neil Diamond certainly isn't Iron Maiden, nor is he going to be as loud, the bass from the neighboring BMO stage last night (B-52s) was highly distracting. And I had what I hoped were good seats (reserved bleachers, Sect. 14, just a little off-middle). When Neil moved into a slow number or a song that had slower, quieter elements (e.g. the beginning of Holly Holy, Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show, etc.), the subsonic booming from next door stage trampled the songs. I think at one point, Mr. Diamond himself was distracted by it--he turned his head towards the noise and for a moment paused; I think he even furrowed his significantly bushy brows. There's no doubt in my mind he could hear it. And his slowest song--You Don't Bring Me Flowers--was pulverized by the B-52s' heavy bombardment of bass.

At show's end, I posted this tweet: The location of the BMO Harris Pavilion relative to the Marcus Amphitheater was the biggest Milwaukee mistake since Elton John at Harley. :(

A friend responded back with a few things like, "It's a music festival; the acts should expect it" and "the crossover is worse at other stages," but I take exception to both of those comments. First, I don't think a performer on the main stages (call it two main stages now) should have to fight for the right to be heard. He's Neil-friggin'-Diamond for Heaven's sake and his fans doled out a heck of a lot of money to see him. Our crummy tickets were $75 each with fees. Second, the crossover effect is worst at the BMO/Marcus for this reason and this reason only: low-frequency bass.

Since the adjacent stages of the Miller, Harley, Briggs' Backyard all face east, you can hear other performers too during the quieter moments, but the earthen and concrete berm that separates the BMO and Marcus takes that heavy bass from the BMO and transfers it into the seating area at the Marcus. Once I got accustomed (?) to the thump, I even heard it during Neil's louder songs (Cracklin' Rosie, Sweet Caroline, etc.). You don't so much hear it as you feel it.

I'm not sure how many others are this distracted by it. I've always been highly sensitive to these kinds of things. My wife said it didn't bother her, but by the end of the show, I think she was starting to understand my complaint.

And I bet this: future performers are going to be very wary of playing these stages without knowing who is playing at the adjacent theater. Guaranteed. You can bet your butt David Gray won't be back!

That said, Summerfest 2012 had a great lineup and the BMO Harris Pavilion, by itself, is a remarkably great place to see a show. Maybe the Marcus's days are numbered? I don't know, but complaints aside, I'll probably be standing in the sweltering heat with a $6.50 Miller Lite in my hand next first week of July just like I have for the last 25.

I guess I'm just stubborn. :|



Thursday, July 5, 2012

Two Short Stories That Will Make You Feel Good

This is a short post about a couple of things that are very nice.

First, to celebrate the 4th of July, we went to the Bay View parade (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). It was great to attend the Three Little Birds' first parade ever (for those unfamiliar, the "Three Little Birds" are my triplet nephews and niece; born a tad premature in 2011, I used to sing Bob Marley's Three Little Birds to them in the NICU). It's great to see how far they have come and it's exciting to see them out and about after lots of time indoors.

Like everywhere, yesterday was sweltering in Milwaukee. As we stood at the northeast corner of Humboldt Park watching the parade pass, a Milwaukee police officer monitoring the parade from the rear bumper of his parked, unmarked squad car approached my sister and brother-in-law and said that if the three little birds were too hot, he would gladly allow them to rest for a spell in the air-conditioned car.

What a nice gesture!

We didn't take advantage of it, but wasn't that swell of him to ask? Heck, I was ready to take him up on his offer; however, the thought of me sitting in the back of a squad car conjured up too many bad memories of my collegiate years. 

Ah, reckless youth. Thank goodness I lived through it. 

Second, tonight's main act at Summerfest's Marcus Amphitheater is the Zac Brown Band. I knew nothing about Zac Brown on the day that his mega-popular album The Foundation dropped in stores. However, on that day, I found myself sitting at Elephant & Castle in downtown Chicago after a day at a trade show at McCormick Place. Another diner and drinker in town for business too, sat beside me. After a few minutes we struck up a conversation when he asked me this question: "Do you like music?"

Turns out this fellow was a good friend of Zac's and he was thrilled that his buddy's new album was released this day. He was excited and alone and couldn't wait to talk to somebody about it. This guy was not only a friend of Zac's, but he was the band's personal physician. He would often tour with them or meet them at various points along their tour to monitor their health. 

This doctor's main professional focus, however, was the treatment of children with autism. And here is where my best memories were formed. 

He explained at great lengths innumerable examples of Zac Brown volunteering and providing support, shows, resources, etc. for autism foundations (the good Doctor's in particular). Zac hadn't even reached his big fame yet, and, up until that point, he mostly had a dedicated and passionate legion of fans. Nonetheless, I was highly impressed by his selfless nature and commitment to a cause.

Even without ever hearing his music, I became a Zac Brown Band fan.

Since that night I've come to know his music from the band's The Foundation album. I've enjoyed seeing their meteoric rise and I've admired Zac's incredible ability to pick the guitar. I am happy to see good things happen to good, talented people and if it weren't for the Avett Brothers (a personal favorite!) playing next door tonight at the BMO Harris Pavilion, I'd be there at the Marcus Amphitheater amongst Zac's dedicated and passionate legion.

Good stuff to hear, right? Now enjoy some of my favorite Zac Brown picking on Mary.





Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Big Gig and Me

By my three main criteria, Summer is definitely here:

1) Memorial Day was 4 weeks ago, 2) the Summer Solstice occurred on June 20th, and 3) if you're a Milwaukeean or Sconnie you know this--the Big Gig is here. The self-titled "World's Largest Music Festival". Ah, of course, I'm talking about Summerfest!

I looked at the scheduled lineup this year and was impressed. There are many acts of which I am a fan. These include Foo Fighters, The Avett Brothers, ZZ Top, Steve Miller Band,  Ben Folds Five, The Hives, Scorpions (The Scorps!), Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Head and The Heart, Trampled By Turtles, Joe Walsh, Robert Randolph and The Family Band, Bob Mould performing "Copper Blue" (a favorite album of mine), 311, Fountains of Wayne (questionable; their last record blew), Bodeans (of course; I know all of their songs!), Mat Kearney, Zac Brown Band, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper (Coop!), Young The Giant, Death Cab for Cutie, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Fitz and The Tantrums, Cake, Aerosmith, B-52s, Bush, and lastly--the Jewish Elvis!--Neil Diamond.

Whew. That's just from a quick once-over of the schedule! And I was only looking at bands in bold type. I know there are local bands that I'd like to see too. Local sisters Vic & Gab come to mind (I know they're on the schedule somewhere, but I'm not sure on what day).

As the fest approaches, I've been asked numerous times, "Have you got your Summerfest schedule all figured out?"

Yeah, I'm seeing Neil Diamond on the final day of the 11-day music romp. At the main amphitheater--where I bought a ticket and have a seat, but that's probably about it.

"Why only Neil?" you may wonder.

Because as much as I enjoy Summerfest--and I do, immensely--as a place to actually enjoy top-name entertainment, it's the pits. I'd much rather pay to see one of the above acts when they're traveling through Milwaukee and playing at one of our sweet music theaters.

For example, if you know only one thing about me, you probably know that I am a HUGE fan of the band Wilco. I've seen Wilco six times: three at Summerfest (a different stage every time) and three in theaters (a different theater every time: Madison's Overture Hall and Milwaukee's Pabst and Riverside Theaters). My three experiences at theaters were fantastic; my three at Summerfest sucked.

Wait. Did I forget to capitalize "sucked" for emphasis? I did. Let me correct that ...

SUCKED.

Once a headlining act takes the stage, every person stands on the benches which are meant for sitting. If you're lucky enough to have grabbed a chunk of a bent, rickety aluminum bench, you might be able to stand on your tiptoes and peer between the giant heads of the seven pucca shell necklace-wearing dullards stumbling on and off the benches in front of you just to see the top of the head of the saxophone player occupying the far left corner of the stage. Of course, you've got fight, too, to maintain this precious 13" of metal space and be prepared to defend it 'til the drummer finally throws all of his (or her) sticks into the crowd at the end of the second encore.

Horrible. This is not just the 45-year old Mike's opinion. I had this opinion of the Summerfest musical experience when I was 21 years old. Why is it that we can split an atom and land a remote-controlled 4x4 on Mars, but Don Smiley and crew haven't figured out how to remove the benches within the first 25 yards or more of the front of the stages? That would allow people attending the daytime shows a place to stand, watch, dance, and then later, compress the number of people who occupy the space in front of the stage for the big name shows? Leave the benches and tables for people to stand on farther away from the stage. At least people that stand on the seats farther away will at least be able to see over the people that are standing on the pavement.

From what I've heard, the new BMO Harris Pavilion addresses a lot of these issues with a new seating arrangement and a sloped spectator area. Let's hope so.

I may come off as a curmudgeon in the above few paragraphs, but here's what I really enjoy about Summerfest: going early on a sun-splashed hot day, enjoying a few cold beers, strolling around and watching surprisingly good, unheard-of talent. I've seen some great musicians during midday performances that have really blown me away. Then, when everybody piles into the grounds to see the bigger names, I slip out the main gate and find myself a nice seat in an air-conditioned restaurant or pub. Why not? They're empty and could use the business.

Some year, I'd like to take off every working day during the fest and hang out there all day just as described above. I'd really enjoy that, but in reality, I'm quite sure that will never happen. I get 10 days off a year--I'm not going to burn 'em all on Summerfest! I've got other places I've got to go (Prague, I'm looking at you).

Tomorrow it all starts. I work only blocks away from the grounds and I'll burn with envy as summer revelers stumble past my window on their way to do what I most would like to do a day off in the next two weeks: rock out with my golfer's tan out along the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline with a cold, albeit over-priced, malted barley beverage in my hand.

If you go, have fun, be safe, and remember--at the fest, or anywhere else for that matter--don't be a dick.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rock 'n Sole Half Marathon Recap

[A picture-enhanced version of my dailymile post]

What a fantastic run and day. The Summerfest Rock 'n Sole Half Marathon was a real joy and I was happy to celebrate the post-race festivities with pal Reggie Wegner.

The 8 hours before the race were terrible. I got hit with a bout of insomnia and didn't fall asleep until 2:30 a.m. -- my alarm was set for 5. And even when I finally did fall asleep, that sleep wasn't very sound.
I'm not sure why I couldn't sleep. I don't think it was my nerves about the race -- I just wasn't tired enough, I guess.

Heading to Milwaukee's lakefront where the race was to take place was interesting too. Out in Wauwatosa, where I live (about 5 miles west of the lake), the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Driving east on I-94 we could see this wall of clouds at the lakefront. Some sort of lake effect fog had the entire area near the lakefront at zero-visibility. The race announcers kept warning of zero-visibility on the Hoan Bridge where the first aid station (water) was. They didn't want us running into each other like some sort of of freeway pile-up.

And here's where I get really honest...
View from Corral "G"

In my starting corral (G), alone, I got highly emotional. I have no idea why. Just the scene, the fog, the people, the challenge -- it all came together and I welled up with emotion. I didn't exhibit visible tears, but they weren't far from the surface.

Honestly, I have no idea why this feeling arose. I've never felt it before (in this type of environment), but I won't necessarily discourage it from happening again. The only thing that I can attribute it to is just knowing that I am taking part in something special.

To settle down, I looked for the 2:10 timing sign. Friends of mine were the pace-setters: Rochelle Van Hart, Krista Ledbetter, and Matt Jacobson. Alongside them were pals Alicia Hanson. and Eric Benjamin. It was good to see them and they calmed my nerves.

Matt & Rochelle -- The 2:10 pacers (Krista
just barely in view on the left)
The "gun" sounded and we were off.

In my mind I was going to be happy if I finished at 2:10, so I ran with my pack up the Hoan. However, in the heavy runner traffic, I split up from the group and found a comfortable pace. Midway down the Hoan Bridge (about 1.5 miles in) I looked back to the 2:10 sign and was surprised how far ahead of it I was. I thought I'd be a mere handful of yards, but it was more like 100!

Oh well. I was feeling comfortable and was enjoying the pace. No reason to slow up now, right?

I continued to feel great at the 10k marker I began to believe that running a sub 2-hour half was possible. This was a great motivator because it kept me from ever walking a single step -- save water breaks and a short, crowded distance up the steep Lafayette Hill -- for the remainder of the race.

In Lake Park I recognized friend Lindsey Paulsen. Not 100% certain of my identification skills, I said "Lindsey?" Sure enough, she looked right at me and I became positive of her ID. Lindsey had a nice pace going and we chatted for about a mile and a half. I didn't want to disrupt her determined concentration further and I explained that I thought I had a shot at a sub two. At Bradford Beach I pulled ahead, looked back and gave Lindsey a wave. She gave me a return wave and flashed her inimitable smile.

That smile lightened my heart and pushed me ahead for at least the next half mile.

Thanks, Lindsey. I hope you enjoyed that finish line beer!

The final 3 miles I tried to push myself but the fuel tank was nearing E. I didn't have much left. I did manage to catch up to the 2:05 pace team in Lakefront State Park, but by that time, there was less than a mile left to the finish line.
A couple of Sconnies celebrate with sconnies!

The final mile I pushed with everything I had but I still came up short: 2 hours, 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Only a little disappointing as my initial goal would've been between 2:10 and 2:20. In that respect, I shattered my expectations!

The finish line party was at the Summerfest grounds where I finally met up with Reggie where we proceeded to do the one thing that we do better than run: drink beers!

What a great run, event, and day. I'm pretty sure you can sign me up for next year's tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Little Tastebuds

By now, you’ve all seen at least one or one thousand cooking shows on TV. They’re fun -- especially when you get to see the truly inventive and creative at work (Top Chef, I’m talking about you), but the problem is we never get to taste the food! It looks good, but for all we know, it could taste like an old shoe with a gorgonzola crumble and a sprinkle of oregano. Probably not, but I’m just sayin’.

However, at Savory Spoon Cooking School in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, you not only get to observe a master chef -- the delightful Janice W. Thomas -- but you get to work alongside her and her assistant while preparing her delicious recipes with your very own hands!

And let me tell you this: the results are divine.

We were part of a Door County Bike Tour group that visited the Cooking School on a rainy Tuesday morning. The class commenced at 11:00 a.m. and Chef Thomas explained to us what we would be cooking that day. She went over each course, and explained and demonstrated a few tips that we would use in the preparation of each dish.

About noon, our group of 10 split into five groups of two. My wife and I took the appetizer soup course: Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup. We picked this course mainly because we were standing nearest to its preparation table. What a nice choice this turned out to be! It required no actual cooking, but a lot of measuring, chopping, blending and preparing and the results were heavenly.

The other four groups split up and made the following (in the order they were served): Fennel and Arugula Salad with Orange Vinaigrette, Baked Salmon with Pistachios and Herbed Panko (one group) alongside Grilled Asparagus and Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic (another group), and for dessert Fresh Blueberry Raspberry Tart.

Hungry yet?

By 1 o’clock, the prep tables were cleared and a table was set. We finished the preparation of our chilled soup and the entire group sat down to enjoy lunch. Our soup, which we garnished only moments before, was then served to us nearly as though we were dining at the finest restaurant. Even though we only followed the Chef’s expert advice and recipe, it was hard not to let it go to our heads when we heard everybody taste our soup and say, “Wow! Is that ever good!”

This pretty much continued through the remaining courses where I equally enjoyed each and every one.

What a fun way to spend a day. I doubt I’ve ever had a better lunch and Chef Thomas was such a joy be around. The next time you are planning to be in Door County, be sure to look up the Savory Spoon Cooking School class schedule (on their website) and sign up for one if you can. It’s a ton of fun and your tastebuds will do back-flips!

I should also mention that the Savory Spoon is located in a restored school that was originally built in 1879. The floors in the building are original. Great credit is owed to the Savory Spoon owners for restoring this important Door County, Wisconsin landmark! 



My Wife and I Happily Garnish Our Soup!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Distil (Milwaukee) Yelp Review

With a name like Distil, the first think I think is not "Ham Sandwich!" but "Mmm, cocktail." Preferably something distilled and not brewed, even though the latter is my preference. However tonight, during Milwaukee's Downtown Dining Week (DDW), we decided to give Distil's food a try.

We were not disappointed.

Before I get too detailed, let me tell you that previously I thought Downtown Dining Week was misspelled -- it was usually more like Downtown Dining "WEAK," and after 7 years, I was surprised this was still a thing. Oh sure, the idea behind DDW is a sound one, but normally good restaurants would often deliver sub-par food, portion sizes, and service. Participating establishments' staff -- well-suited for normal Wednesday night business -- became overwhelmed with a surge of value-minded customers.

We had a enough bad experiences to consider shelving this year's DDW altogether.

Fortunately, Distil did not cut back and, unlike of some of their competitors, really delivered the goods.

My wife and I both ordered from the pre fixe menu (the norm for DDW). She ordered the Chilled Asparagus Soup with lemon creme fraiche, Roasted Chicken and Bread Salad, and Huckleberry Pie. I had the Marieke Gouda and Strawberry, Croque Madame with Nueske's smoked ham, Gruyere, local fried egg, finished with a deconstructed Tin Roof Sundae. We shared, and we were not disappointed with any course.

Both appetizers were exquisite. The soup was fresh and bright, while my Marieke Gouda and Strawberry (salad) was perfect. If you're not familiar with Marieke's products, you need to be. They're always SO good. Wisconsin cheese crafts(wo)manship at its finest! (http://www.hollandsfamilycheese.com)

Our entrees rocked. Neither was complicated, but they were both done perfectly. And again, Wisconsin's very own Nueske's bacon was on my Croque. Lots of it too! Let me say this, you could put Nueske's bacon on a old running shoe sole and it would still taste better than most fast food. I love that stuff, and Distil's use of it was divine. (http://www.nueskes.com/)

Lastly, dessert -- an area where lots of DDW participants fall flat -- was awesome. We both sounded like a couple of n00b foodies: Mmm, mmm. OMG! OMG! Wow. Is this good. Is yours good?  'cause mine is really, really good!

For heaven's sake, if I was sitting near myself, I would've punched me. "Shut up already! We get it ... you like the dessert!"

So congratulations Distil, you aced the DDW test and made believers of us. We will not only think of your establishment as a place to go for a good cocktail, but we will also think of it as a fine place to satisfy our appetites with a crispy, eggy, bacony ham sandwich!

(Side note: great ambiance music too!)

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Grateful" Memorial Day

Of course we are happy today. For most of us, we've got a day off of work and it's made even better by the fact that the day off is a Monday -- typically the most difficult day of the week. But on Memorial Day, I've never been comfortable when people say "Happy Memorial Day!" A Memorial Day greeting should express gratitude and be a touch more somber. It should pay respect to our veterans who both served our country and, especially, to those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

Every year for me, Memorial Day is the one holiday that packs the most meaning into a day off. Many years we'll go to a service at Wood National Cemetery. This year we missed it, but within moments of posting this update, we will visit the cemetery and pay my respects to my father -- who is buried there -- and other veterans.

If you are resident of Southeastern Wisconsin and have never visited Wood National, I can't implore you enough to visit. Not only is it historical and grand, it will give you perspective on just how significant the sacrifice made by our veterans was and is.

I can't visit without getting a lump in my throat.

Maybe "Grateful Memorial Day!" would be more appropriate.

P.S. -- When you visit Wood, find my Dad's memorial stone and thank him from bringing me into your life. (Or blame him. Your choice!)


Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's Shakin', Alabama?

I'm late to the party, but my latest obsession is the music of the band Alabama Shakes. Fronted by the powerhouse voice of Brittany Howard and backed by a sometimes-bluesy/sometimes-rockin' foursome, they really can rock the house ... namely, mine.

It's one of those things that takes a few listens to grow on ya. The first tune that caught my ear was the catchy Hang Loose with its groovy guitar riff. But this is the genius: hook you with a catchy tune; and, the more you listen to album's other tracks, the more the band grows on you. (I think Hold On serves this purpose also.) Next thing you know, you're a fan.

But here's the part I that really turns me on: when you see an artist really get into their art. You feel it. You feel it that they're feeling it. They feel it that you're feeling it. It takes off. It's magical. That's soul.

That's what happens when I watch Alabama Shakes. And I haven't even seen them live. The last time they came through town a few months ago, I was unfamiliar with them. I won't miss them the next time they come to town. I'll be there and I'll be there early. I want to hear Ms. Howard's voice on full-blast.

Lastly, this is Rock-and-Roll spirit at its core. There's a chance you won't like it as much as me, but you can't deny this: despite the appearance of the group, this is true music. It's not about some lanky-legged, blonde starlet who can sing well, but feel nothing. I'd take a heartfelt, emotional performance over an autotuned dance-track vocal track any day. I'm looking at you Carrie Underwood and Nicki Minaj.

Enjoy these couple of tracks I dug up on YouTube. The first is the catchy Hang Loose and the second is the rockin' Heavy Chevy recorded at the Bing theater in Portland, Oregon -- the same theater where we saw Jackie Greene last year. Stay tuned on Heavy Chevy -- the end is totally raucous!