40th Birthday Celebrations

I turned 40 a few days ago. I’m not bothered by turning 40, but I know it’s one of those ages that’s supposed to be a big milestone birthday (although by the amount of 50 related birthday things compared to 40, I think 50 may be the new 40). Honestly the only birthday that ever really bothered me was 36 of all ages. I think because that felt firmly middle aged and sent me into a new demographic category that did not include any 20s.

Anyway, I used turning 40 to have some fun celebrations. I know a lot of people do big trips or something like that for their 40th, but I wanted to do something that let me celebrate with all my friends. I knew that if a good number of my friends were going to come I had to make it a kid friendly event, so I decided on renting a pavilion at a park and having it catered.

Really I had been literally thinking for years about having blacksauce kitchen cater a 40th birthday party. Alas that dream was not to be fulfilled as they suffered a fire a few months ago and told me they currently didn’t have the capacity in their temporary space to cater a party that size. As my second choice I went with Blue Pit BBQ, which lets be honest is still a great option. I rounded it out with fruit and veggie trays from Eddie’s. I also got my cake from Eddie’s because I’m not going to lie as much as I love more sophisticated cakes I will forever and always associate birthday cake with sheet cake. Give me that overly sweet frosting with tons of it piled on in roses and other decorations. I mean not all sheet cake is good. Some of it’s pretty terrible, overly dry or made with that oil slick whipped frosting which should be outlawed. Eddie’s however makes an A+ sheet cake and it was exactly what I wanted for my birthday cake. And because my friend Alison is the best she surprised me with tons and tons (I have no idea how many, but there were a lot) of biscuits from Mason Dixon Biscuit Company to make up for my inability to have my blacksauce biscuits for my birthday.

I wound up renting a pavilion in Wilson Point Park in Middle River. I had never been there before or even heard of it as I have spent little to no time in Middle River in all my years in Maryland. I was just searching around online trying to find a park that had a pavilion big enough. A lot of them topped out at 40-50 people. Ultimately one of those would have been fine, but since I was inviting around 80 people I wanted to get something big enough in case most people showed. I found the website for Wilson Point Park that said they had a pavilion big enough, but I wasn’t sure since I didn’t know anything about the park. God bless the person who posted this video on YouTube because it’s pretty much what sold me on it. I did a quick drive by in February to make sure it did look okay in person, which it did. After going out there and realizing its location near I-695 and I-95 I also thought it would be a nice sort of central location for my friends who would be coming from all over the Baltimore area. It also had a nice big parking lot so there were no worries about parking. And there was also a nice big playground near the pavilion for the kids to play on. There was also plenty of lawn space to set up various lawn games as well.

I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. After months and months of seemingly endless rain here in Baltimore the weather on Saturday was gorgeous. There was a nice breeze and the shade of the pavilion made it the perfect temperature.

It was so nice to have so many of my friends gathered in one place. It made me feel very special to have so many people come out to help me celebrate, and made me realize how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. The day went by way too fast and I definitely didn’t get to spend as much time with everyone as I would have liked. I feel like there were some people I didn’t really get to talk to at all, but I hope they had a great time and know that I appreciate them being there. It was the perfect day and just what I wanted.

The party on Saturday was my big celebration, but I of course had to celebrate on my actual birthday. I took the day off work because I try to never work on my birthday if I don’t have to. I started the day off with a massage. Then I took myself to the movies to see Hearts Beat Loud. It was a sweet little movie starring Nick Offerman as a single dad whose daughter is about to leave for college. They manage to write a song that gets some traction on Spotify causing him to try and use that as an excuse to keep her at home while she’s still trying to spread her wings. There was lots of great stuff for the music lover in me along with a wonderful story about family and support and letting go.

My final birthday fun was making my husband take me out to a fancy dinner at The Charleston. It’s been Baltimore’s most renowned fancy restaurant since I can remember helmed by multiple James Beard Award nominee Cindy Wolf. The menu is presented as a tasting menu with around 20 dishes on it and you decided how many courses you would like from 3-6. It’s not like a prix fixe menu where you get one appetizer, one main, and one dessert or something like that. With this you could order 6 meats if you wanted. Their dessert is also included in the meal and not counted as one of your courses. Even so it is definitely pricy and something I always had a hard time justifying to myself. In addition, the menu is definitely meat heavy so it felt doubly hard to justify going with my vegetarian husband. He even whined about it when I told him we were going. But as with all fancy restaurants where they are actually prepping the meals from scratch and not reheating something they ordered from U.S. Foodservice or somesuch, they were able to make him something not on the menu. He ultimately wound up having a better experience than I did. I had notified them during the reservation, and they addressed it as soon as we got there and walked him through the veggie friendly options already on the menu and then pointed out some of the things that could be easily converted to vegetarian. And then said they could put something else together with any other ingredients on the menu. He wound up getting essentially one dish from each category.

Ultimately I think he enjoyed his dinner more than I did mine. Either it didn’t say on the menu or I missed it but I didn’t expect the seafood in my second course to be curried. If I had known I would have ordered something else so that was disappointing, but completely my fault. Even though I don’t love that curry flavor the dish was still good and probably would have been great to someone who loves curry. The bronzino I ordered as my third course was delicious until I got the very center and it was not as done as I would have liked. There wasn’t enough left to bother saying anything about it. I have no doubt that if I had they very quickly would have brought me another piece of fish or replaced it with something else of my choosing as the service was very attentive and they even removed the beer my husband spilled from our bill. I am kind of still dreaming of the blue cheese that was in the salad I ordered as my first course though. My husband left extremely pleased with everything he ate. We’ll probably make it back for another special occasion at some point.

So far 40 has been a great year. Hopefully it keeps up.

The Boys in the Band on Broadway (AKA Matt Bomer Day)

My friends Jenny, Sarah, and I have a longstanding crush on our “gay TV boyfriend”, Matt Bomer going all the way back to his days as Bryce Larkin on Chuck. It of course was firmly cemented during his years on White Collar and then sent into complete overdrive with the Magic Mike films. Sadly I haven’t loved a lot of what he’s been doing lately on TV as I am not into American Horror Story at all. I also never watched whatever that Amazon show he did was. I watched the pilot and didn’t love it and then eons later when the show finally dropped I didn’t have time to watch it at the time and then sort of forgot it existed until I started writing this. Maybe I’ll watch it, but probably not.

Anyway, when we saw that Matt Bomer was going to be starring in a revival of The Boys in the Band on Broadway there was no way we couldn’t make a trip to NYC to see him in it, something I kept calling Matt Bomer Day in homage to Rex Manning Day from Empire Records. The rest of the cast including Andrew Rannells, Jim Parsons, and Zachary Quinto. My sister assures me that Michael Benjamin Washington who is also in the cast is someone that we went to high school with in Plano, TX and that he was her class president. Our high school was huge and I didn’t know most of the people in my own class let alone anyone in the year behind me so I don’t feel bad for having no clue but now I think it’s a fun tidbit.

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The last time the three of us went up to NYC together to see a show was a few years ago to see Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. We took the MegaBus and got stranded on the New Jersey turnpike for 3 hours in the middle of the night on our way home, so this time we decided to take the train which was a much better choice even if it is more expensive. We just went up for the day without enough time to really do much between our show and the train on either side, so we just wandered around mid-town, had brunch, and of course got cookies at Schmakery’s.

I didn’t know much about the play going in other than knowing the amazing cast and that the show was a revival on it’s 50th anniversary. Having now read the New York Times review (which liked it much less than I did for some of seemingly the same reasons they didn’t care for Children of a Lesser God as much as I did), I now know that the original play was in fact two acts and that this production was trimmed and condensed into a 2 hour one act play. You can definitely still feel the shift where the act break would have occurred so I was not surprised to learn this.

It’s certainly not a perfect show, but it kept me entertained for 2 hours and that’s pretty much all I’m looking for in my Broadway entertainment. It’s still set in 1968 and is still a show that was written in 1968, so it still retains the sensibilities of homosexual life (or at least the way it was viewed) in 1968, which is one of the things the New York Times reviewer seemed to take issue with. I on the other hand am willing to view things as period pieces. Yeah, if this play about a birthday party being thrown by a group of gay guys for one of their friends was written 2018 it would probably not be this play, but it was written 50 years ago so it is and the characters act and react in the ways that they do because it was.

The first half was really amusing. There are still some zingers in the second half, but it does take a much more dramatic turn. I maybe do agree with the reviewer that Jim Parsons was perhaps not the right actor for the lead role. No offense to Jim Parsons, but he’s a pretty one note actor and while that worked for some facets of the character I’m not sure it worked for all of them. My boyfriend Matt Bomer was perfect though. That man is so pretty it’s almost criminal. We got to see a lot of him mostly naked on stage. It’s worth the ticket price just for that. The first half of the show was better not only because it was funnier, but because he did more than stand in a corner and be eye candy which is mostly what his character did in the second half of the show. At any rate I definitely enjoyed the show and getting to be so close to a long term TV crush.

After the show of course we went to the stage door to hopefully get autographs and photos. Given the large cast of well known actors it was unsurprisingly mobbed by the time we got out there, so we were a couple people deep from the rail. Everyone in the cast came out except Jim Parsons. I don’t blame him though because it was a 2 show day and he is working on a broken foot. Even though we weren’t right in front we were close enough that I managed to throw my arm across the shoulders of the people in front of me and get everyone in the cast to sign my Playbill except Zachary Quinto because some other woman threw hers on top of mine at the last second and he moved on down the line too quick to notice mine once she pulled hers back.

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We sadly weren’t close enough to get our photo taken with Matt Bomer right next to us, but my friend Jenny did yell out and ask him to look up and smile for us so we could get a selfie with him in the background and he totally did. Sarah also got lots of good photos of all the actors as they came out and were interacting with people. I did get a little bonus in that as we were walking away a gentleman grabbed me and said hey I got this photo of you with Matt Bomer would you like me to send it to you. I was like uh yes, please. It’s not the greatest photo ever. Someone else’s camera is blocking part of it and it’s a little blurry, but I’ll take it.

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It was a super fun day and really glad we did it. Hopefully this won’t be the last Broadway show that Matthew Bomer stars in. And I’m sure we’ll be up to see something else even if he’s not starring in it.

 

Brandi Carlile with Darlingside at the Anthem

Sunday night I finally made it down to DC’s new concert venue, The Anthem. I’ve been staring longingly at all the shows I would love to see on their concert calendar, but DC is such a trek it usually takes a lot to get me to pull the trigger on anything especially on a weeknight. Of course it would be Brandi Carlile that finally got me down there.

Yes, I did just see her twice in New York City in April. I went up there because I was afraid I would be busy on whatever Baltimore/DC date she was going to schedule in the future. Sure enough when she announced her full list of tour dates I was glad I got the tickets for New York City because the original DC date was on the same day as our annual Preakness party. For reasons I won’t go into we didn’t wind up having our party this year, but by the time we knew that wasn’t going to happen the Saturday show was sold out. Luckily they added a second show on Sunday night. I waffled back and forth about going since I had just seen her in New York City, but I was nudged over the edge by my husband volunteering that he would go with me and telling me I should buy tickets and also my desire to see Darlingside who were opening.

Darlingside is a folk band from Boston. Their harmonies are incredible. They basically spent their entire set grouped around a single mic singing together. In addition to their beautiful music they are also really nerdy and funny in a way that I had no idea about. Their stage banter made me laugh a lot. They said the first thing they thought about The Anthem was that they were playing in front of the Galactic Senate from Star Wars. I hadn’t thought of it before, but as soon as they said it I could totally see it. There are a lot of nerdy references in their music that I didn’t realized before either. They have a song all about Harrison Ford, which I don’t think I had heard before. My major revelation of the night came in reference to their song “Go Back”, which is apparently a reference to Back to the Future 2 and not the nerdy reference to Lost that I’ve said before is what I have always thought about when listening to that song. Their whole set was great. They got a standing ovation and people yelling encore at the end, which is not something you see a whole lot for opening acts. I definitely look forward to seeing them again in the future.

Darlingside playing music

Brandi’s set was much the same as the shows I saw in New York, but there were a few additional songs. The Beacon Theatre has a strict 11 pm noise ordinance whereas The Anthem obviously does not so they added a few more songs to their set. The set list made me very glad I was there for the Sunday show instead of the Saturday show. I looked Saturday’s set list up and I was happier with the extra songs on Sunday. She played “Dreams”, which I really like in and of itself but which I now always associate with this delightful time in which one of WRNR’s DJs decided to play it twice in a row because he loves it too. For one of the encore songs they brought Darlingside back out on stage and sang a cover of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road”, which was wonderful. Between Darlingside and Brandi and Twins there were practically more harmonies than that stage could handle. It was an amazing show from top to bottom and well worth the effort to go down to DC on a school night. Now I’m counting down the days until I get to see Brandi again when she plays my dream concert co-headlining with Jason Isbell.

Brandi Carlile playing music

BSO Pulse with Moon Taxi

Last Thursday I went to the final BSO Pulse concert of the season with Moon Taxi. I’ve written about these concerts before in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plays, followed by a set from an indie band, and finally a collaboration in which the BSO backs the band on a few of their songs.

I haven’t been to all of these concerts, so I don’t know for sure if this one was different from all of the others but it was at least somewhat different than the other ones I’ve been to. What I tend to think about when I think of a band playing with an orchestra is a lot of strings, which has been the case for the other shows I’ve been to. This one however was all brass and percussion. Rather than one or two movements, this time the BSO played a number of shorter pieces including the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Olympic Fanfare, and a Handel piece written to accompany the Royal fireworks in Britain.

Moon Taxi is one of those bands that has been around for over a decade doing their thing, but is finally getting some real recognition six albums in. They were a super fun band to watch. Their lead singer, Trevor Terndrup is a fantastic performer. They were super energetic and got the crowd into it. Everyone was grooving. I was a fan of their music going in and now I’m even more sold on them. I would definitely go see them live again the next time they’re in the Baltimore area.

The decision to make arrangements with brass and percussion for the BSO to back Moon Taxi was perfect. Nicholas Hersh, the BSO’s Associate Conductor who conducts these concerts is always super fun to watch as a conductor, but this was extra awesome. He was totally grooving while he was conducting.

They also announced that they will be coming back for a Season 4, which makes me really happy. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything beyond Season 3 because I know they had a 3 year grant to do this. I really love these shows and am excited there will be more of them.

Songs I Love: Born in the Right Country by River Whyless

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about any songs I love here. It’s not because there haven’t been many songs entering my world that are worthy of being written about but as I’ve said before that my mental energy to write has been almost non-existent hence the few and far between posts around these parts. But I’ve been on a vacation from work, Twitter, and Baltimore and have restored my energy for a few days at least.

River Whyless is a band that I should really listen to more but for some reason just don’t. I like their music and I loved seeing them perform at the Newport Folk Festival a few years ago, so I’m not sure why they haven’t been a band I pay more attention to. Their newest song may just change that. “Born in the Right Country” is the first single off the forthcoming new album Kindness, A Rebel. I would completely dig this song based on the beat and guitar work no matter what lyrics went along with the music. In a time when it becomes more clear every day that the idea of the American dream is a lie this song speaks to the fact that where you end up in life is very much determined by where you are born in life and the systems that are in place are designed to keep people who are already in power in power. Not exactly a cheery song, but one that speaks the truth and to a great tune.

 

 

Cobra Kai

The other week on Facebook I said something to the effect that I hate how Hollywood is just continuously eating its own tail at this point and doing what seems like nothing but  prequels, sequels and reboots. Obviously they keep doing it because the market is there, so I hate myself a little every time I contribute to their reasoning. Despite saying that there was no way I was not going to watch Cobra Kai, the sequel to the Karate Kid movies created by YouTube Red.

I feel like most people I know talk about what movies they watch over and over again Shawshank Redemption is always on the list. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that movie exactly once. The movies I’ve seen a billion times are not nearly as high brow. My most watched movies list consists of Overboard, When Harry Met Sally, Can’t Buy Me Love, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and of course The Karate Kid. So YouTube Red wins. They hit right on my nostalgia button to make me finally set up an account with them. At least I got to watch it all via a free trial.

The series picks up in the present day following the characters of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso and where they are now 35 years later. In some respects they have switched places from where they were in the movie. Daniel is now the well-to-do one who owns luxury car dealerships and is married with two kids. Johnny is down on his luck going from one menial job to the next, divorced, and a dead beat dad. Despite their different circumstances both of them are still stuck in the past in various ways.

Johnny decides to open up a Cobra Kai karate dojo, but instead of the cool kids that were part of Cobra Kai when he was a teenager his students are now the losers of the school. Meanwhile Daniel unbeknownst to him begins mentoring and teaching karate to Johnny’s estranged son. Neither one of them has let go of what they think the other one did to the other back in high school and are using their respective proteges to fight their own drama.

I did not have high hopes for Cobra Kai actually being any good, but it surprised me a little. Granted it’s still relying at least 60% if not more off of your nostalgia for the original movie. I’ll be interested to see how I feel about it during its second season when they don’t have all the callbacks to rely on because they’ve already used them all.

It’s certainly not high art, but I enjoyed watching it. I will not lie. Most of my favorite moments were tied to callbacks to the original movie. I definitely cheered a little for every one. But the show is not solely relying on those. They’ve actually done a decent job of developing the characters. I especially loved Daniel’s wife who called him out every time he started acting like a high school idiot again. She had my favorite line of the whole first season in the final episode. There is also a lot more nuance in looking at who is actually right and who is wrong as opposed to the very clearcut good vs. evil in the movie.

I will definitely keep watching when it comes back for another season. If you don’t have a strong attachment to the original Karate Kid movie I’m not sure I would bother watching this, but if you loved it like I did I would say it’s worth 6 hours of your time.

David Bowie Exhibit and Children of a Lesser God

I did a few other things in my trip to NYC last weekend. Because of my concert ticket mix-up that led to me staying an extra day I had all of Friday during the day to do something. I have been wanting to go to the Tenement Museum for forever, but since it’s all timed guided tours I often feel like I don’t have time to fit it in between whatever else I have scheduled. I thought this trip might be a good opportunity, but from what I understand some of the tours are outside and they recommend you pairing an inside and outside tour. The weather was supposed to be not great so I nixed that idea.

In looking through the weekly New York Times article about what exhibits to see this weekend I stumbled on the fact that there was a David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that sounded pretty cool. I decided that was what I wanted to do. I told my friend who I was staying with and she decided she wanted to go too, so we both got tickets (it’s timed entry and you should definitely buy tickets online ahead of time).

Our entry wasn’t until 1:15 so we decided to head down to Brooklyn early and find somewhere to grab brunch/lunch beforehand. Based on Google maps it looked like there were a number of options up one of the major roads near the museum so we just decided to wander. We saw a place on Google maps as we were walking called Tom’s that said it was a Brooklyn institution since 1936. After popping our heads into a couple of other places that we decided weren’t what we were looking for we wound up at Tom’s. At first it looked like we might not be able to get a table, but there was a an open table for two hidden away in the back corner. We were sitting there talking and all of a sudden I glanced at the wall and saw this

framed lyrics to Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega

So we apparently accidentally stumbled on eating at the Tom’s where Suzanne Vega wrote the song “Tom’s Diner” and only knew about it because we wound up sitting at that particular table. I love serendipity.

The David Bowie exhibit was really cool. I don’t have any photos of it really because there weren’t any photos allowed. I’m happy about that because it was crowded enough and difficult to see and read everything without having to deal with people trying to take photos of everything. The exhibit was really cool. When you go in you get handed a pair of headphones to use through the entire thing. There’s some mechanism set up so that what is playing changes as you move through the exhibit most often providing you the audio to whatever video is playing. There were of course lots of artifacts, lots of video and audio, and costumes. If you even remotely like David Bowie I would highly recommend this exhibit if you can make it to Brooklyn before it ends in July.

Before heading home on Saturday I saw a matinee of Children of a Lesser God. Although I had some knowledge of what it was about I had never seen a previous staged production of it or the movie. This revival stars Joshua Jackson as James Leeds a speech teacher at a school for the deaf and Lauren Ridloff as a Sarah Norman one of his students who doesn’t want to learn to speak or read lips and whom James falls in love with. She signs her entire performance and you basically get what she is saying by the way he responds to her. I wonder how it would change the experience if you knew sign language and were watching. It’s a very thought provoking play about communication and power.

I really enjoyed it and though Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff were both great. Anthony Edwards is underutilized in the role of James’ boss, which is one of the few things I agree with in the New York Times’ less than favorable review of the production. The set also didn’t do much for me, but those are about the only disparaging things in that review that I agree with. The show like the original is still set in the 1970s. The gender dynamics were treated as such which is something the reviewer seemed to take issue with. He seemed to want the show to also address race and gender in ways the show wasn’t meant to. I thought it was a great show and I would definitely recommend it if you’re in New York and looking for a play to see.