I recently finished reading The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. He spent a year writing a daily essay about something that day that brought him delight. It sounds more inspirational and treacly than it actually is. His delights are often things that most of us would not necessarily think of as delights, and he often spun off into other thoughts from his original delight. This book was the 2021 One Maryland, One Book selection. One of my book clubs usually reads whatever that is every year, but we skipped this one because it was essays, and that didn’t seem great for a book club discussion. I still agree with that assessment, but I’m glad I watched a virtual event Ross Gay did where I work because it made me want to read the book and I’m so very glad I did. It earned a rare 5 stars from me on Goodreads.
All that is a set-up to say that reading the book reminded me a little bit of the original intent of this blog that I have very much gotten away from. Even though the book was not designed to be an inspiration, it has encouraged me to start looking for more little delights as I go about my day. I’m not saying I’m going to write an essay every day, and whatever I write is certainly not going to be as eloquent or profound as what Ross Gay was writing, but I want to try and commit to writing at least one post per week that shares some of the delights I’ve seen throughout the week.
Here’s a few things from the past week:
Last weekend we were in Lewes, Deleware. Every few hundred yards along the beach by where we were staying is a public beach access path. It seems like the people who live there just leave their beach gear at the end of whatever path that they use. There were all kinds of things like kayaks and beach chairs that people had just left out there. It felt like a nice bit of trust in the goodness of people that they could leave their stuff out there and no one take it. There feels like so little of that in the world in these days. It was a nice reminder that there can be something better.
Little kids jumping in mud puddles. My friend and I went hiking this weekend and the trail was pretty muddy in parts. We were trying our hardest to stay out of it the whole time, but right as we were getting ready to exit the trail we came across a family with some little kids just jumping around in the mud like it was the best thing ever. I didn’t go start jumping in the mud, but perhaps a little nudge to every once in awhile forget about the aftermath (when it’s not causing anyone harm of course) and just enjoy the moment. Those kids certainly weren’t thinking about the mess their parents were going to have to clean up or how they were probably ruining their shoes. They were just living in the moment enjoying the feeling of squishing around in the mud.
A tiny mailbox. I walked by a house with a tiny mailbox attached to their fence post yesterday. I don’t know why it’s there. I don’t know what it’s for. Certainly not mail, as nothing mail sized would fit in it. I hope whatever reason it’s there is for fun. Even if it’s not, it made me smile.
A banner for Penny’s last day of cancer treatment on 2-22-22. I don’t know who Penny is. I just happened to walk by a house that had this banner strung across the porch. What could be a greater delight than getting to celebrate someone vanquishing cancer, hopefully for good.
It’s that time of year again where I share my favorite things I experienced in pop culture over the past year. As a reminder these are not necessarily things that came out during 2020 though many of them are. They are however things I enjoyed for the first time this year. This year is a little bit different because some of my standard categories I didn’t really have a choice in thanks to the pandemic. It wasn’t a matter what my favorite thing was. It was a matter of did I even get to do any of these things this year. Although I am sad that I didn’t get to do a lot in the way of seeing things like concerts and theater, which are what I love to do more than anything else in the world, there was thankfully lots of excellent pop culture to keep me entertained while I’ve been stuck at home for most of the year. Let’s get to it.
Movie I Saw in a Theater
This was an easy pick because I saw exactly one movie in a theater in 2020. At least I enjoyed the film, though I doubt it would be sitting in this spot had I seen other movies over the course of the year. It was Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn movie starring Margot Robbie. Who knew I was going to be enjoying so much Harley Quinn this year, since I also loved the Harley Quinn animated tv series now available on HBOMax. I actually appreciated the smallness of this movie. While I mostly enjoy a lot of comic book superhero movies I hate when they are too what I call smashy smashy where you have long 20-30 minute CGI fight scenes of characters just smashing on things and each other. They bore me to tears. There was none of that in this movie. The fight scenes were at close range and a lot of fun. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I found a lot to like about it and am not sad that it gets to be the lone movie I saw in a theater this year.
Movie I Watched at Home
I probably watched more movies at home this year than I normally do because I couldn’t see movies in theaters. I normally prefer to see movies in the theater as I have a hard time concentrating on them for that long at home without getting distracted by other things. I think my favorites though were two documentaries about collecting, The Booksellers and Vinyl Nation. As you might guess The Booksellers were about rare book dealers and collectors while Vinyl Nation was about record stores and record collectors. I am not a collector. I guess I don’t have that kind of personality, but I enjoyed seeing the worlds of these people who are super into collecting their books and vinyl records. Despite being a librarian and avid reader I have no interest in collecting books. I borrow most of the books I read and am happy to send books back out into the world for others to enjoy. I rarely reread books so I don’t see the point of having shelves full of them. I do often wish I was the kind of person who was into vinyl collecting though. Music is obviously something I consume over and over again and the idea of having a collection of records that I look through, select from, and then sit down and listen to appeals to me. In reality though the record player we have is not even out on the floor and the two vinyl albums I own were WXPN pledge drive gifts. Realistically I am never going to be that person, but I enjoyed living in the world of the people who are for a little while.
Without actually meaning to or seeking them out I feel like I read a number of books having to do with various wars or people living under the constant threat of violence. Although it is to some degree an entirely different thing I also felt like there were a lot of parallels to our current state living through a pandemic with lots of death, living in a constant state of fear, and not knowing if or when it’s ever going to end. The best of these books and the one that is the best fiction book I read all year is Apeirogon by Colum McCann. I am just going to share my review on Goodreads because I don’t think I have anything better to say about the book than that.
“An apeirogon is a figure with an infinite number of sides and that is actually the perfect title for this book. I don’t even know how to describe it. At its basest level it is a fictionalized story of the real men Palestinian, Bassam Aramin and Israeli, Rami Elhanan both of whom lost their daughters to violence but who come together to try and fight for peace in the Middle East. It also includes non-fiction passages at the heart of the book written by both men. The story if you can really call it that moves and folds back and around itself while weaving in other facts and histories all written in short vignettes ranging from a mere sentence to several pages. It’s masterfully written and creative in a way that compares to no other book I can think of save for maybe Lincoln in the Bardo, which I more admired for what the author did than I actually enjoyed reading it. Here I think everything comes together perfectly. It’s definitely not a book for anyone who needs their books to have a straight narrative story, but this is beautifully written and full of so much meaning that it is a true masterpiece.”
I have two books that qualify for my favorite non-fiction book of the year. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of thee Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban was the first book I read in 2020 and even then I said this is probably going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I was not wrong about that. It’s the informative and horrifying true story about how generic drugs are made and why there can be so many issues with them. This has made me question everything when it comes to the medications I take.
The second book, which was no surprise, was Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I was very much looking forward to this book as I loved Wilkerson’s previous masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns. Caste looks at how the United States really operates on a caste system based on race. She delves into the history and the effects on people and our country. She offers the best explanation I’ve seen as to why it’s important for us to actually address this issue and do what we need to do to repair rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or say it’s not our problem because we’re not the ones who caused it. If you read one of the three books I’ve mentioned here make it this one.
I have a few tv shows I want to mention that were the highlights of a year in which I watched a LOT of television and that’s saying something given how much I watched before this. I already alluded to Harley Quinn in the movie section. It’s a fun adults only show that I was sad when I ran out of episodes of.
The first show I watched in 2020 was Schitt’s Creek. I binge watched it over my winter break last year. I had not watched it for a long time thinking it was not something I would enjoy. I was never into all the Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara movies and I generally don’t like shows where people are just awful so on the face of it this show was just not for me. But I had heard so many people talk about how much they loved it that I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did because it is such a delightful show full of so much heart. It is a little rough going in the first half of season one where it felt more like what I was expecting, but eventually the show grows and the characters grow and it’s something that brings me so much joy. If you haven’t watched this show yet please do yourself a favor and do it.
My second favorite show of the year has sadly already met an untimely death after only one season. Thanks Netflix. It’s Teenage Bounty Hunters. I love this show so much! Talk about a show with so much heart. In some ways it shares a lot of DNA with Schitt’s Creek in that it is a ridiculous over the top story with characters that are somewhat caricatures but who have such heart that you just fall in love with them. Everyone I have convinced to watch this show has loved it and I know the many other people I’ve been telling to watch it but who have been resisting my efforts (you know who you are) would love it too. I saw it on a lot of year end best of television lists too. I wish Netflix had let it stick around and grow an audience because get why based on the name and description it wasn’t something people jumped right into when Netflix put it out, but it’s definitely a show that would have grown an audience through word of mouth if it had only been given time. Even though it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger I still highly recommend treating yourself to the one season of this show that we were gifted.
I also fell in love with the show Wynonna Earp this year. It’s not a show I had ever really heard anyone talk about aside from one guest on a podcast I listen to. Apparently her love of the show was enough to get me to check it out and I’m glad I finally did. I tell people if they were Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans than this show is probably for them. It’s got a strong female lead, actually lots of strong female characters, love stories, and supernatural fun. I can’t wait for the second half of the most recent season to air hopefully sometime soon.
I have two episodes to talk about in this category. First Season 4, Episode 8 of Insecure, “Lowkey Happy”. This is one of those pay off episodes that I love from long running tv shows. Season 4 was mostly about Issa and Molly’s friendship and was an excellent season looking at the fading of friendship, but this episode was about Issa and her ex-boyfriend Lawrence. They reconnect over a long night spent together that reminds me of the Before movies. It was lovely and romantic and something that only could have happened with these characters and their relationship being developed over seasons.
Second is Schitt’s Creek Season 4, Episode 9, “The Olive Branch”. This is actually another payoff episode in that earlier in the season Patrick sings an acoustic version of the song “The Best” by Tina Turner to David during an event at their store that David both hates and loves. Then as a romantic makeup gesture after a fight in a later episode David does a dance to the song for Patrick. It’s so wonderful. It’s, no pun intended, the best scene from the entire show and is one of the videos I keep in my arsenal to rewatch when I need something to make me happy. Sadly it seems like the videos on YouTube of just that scene have all been pulled down. So you’ll just have to go watch the show to see it.
I had far too many albums I loved this year to talk about in this post, so I refer you to the separate post I did recently on my favorite albums of 2020.
My favorite song of 2020 was Janelle Monae’s “Turntables”. It’s an amazing empowerment anthem that has kept me going through some pretty dark times in this year.
Also have to give a special mention to the song “It’s Still Alright” by Nathaniel Rateliff. It was the first song I added to my 2020 playlist and it’s a song I came back to a lot. Although the song is about substance abuse and the death of Rateliff’s long time producer Richard Swift, the soothing tones of the song and the lyrics of the chorus repeatedly telling us “and it’s still alright” were a continued gentle reminder in this year full of so much pain and sorrow that there are brighter days ahead.
Unlike most years when I would have dozens of concerts to choose from in this spot, this year I only had two. The final concert I went to in 2020 before everything fell apart was Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage. It was a fun show and one I would have cherished all the more had I known it was the last show I was going to see for who knows how long.
The concert that was ultimately my favorite and probably would have been in contention for that even if I had gotten to see everything I already had tickets to in 2020 was traveling to Nashville to meet up with a friend to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium. One of my favorite artists in a fantastic, historical venue with a friend and fellow music lover. Who could ask for more? If I was only going to get to see two concerts in 2020 I can’t complain that this was one of them.
I’m adding in this new category this year because in lieu of getting to go out and see actual shows I watched a lot of artists perform online this year. Hopefully it’s one that I will only need to use this year because I want nothing more for 2021 than to be able to see live music again. There many, many online shows I watched from artists playing on Instagram and YouTube from their houses for free, shows I paid for with artists playing in their houses or shows I paid for with artists performing in actual venues with no audience. None of it fulfills the same experience as going to an actual live show and sharing the musical experience with a crowd.
The two things that I’m going to talk about here are things that are/were some of the least produced online music experiences but because of the way they are/were done brought at least a little of that communal experience you get from live music. When the pandemic first started Amanda Shires did 30 straight days of shows from her barn, which she called I So Lounging. Most of them also featured her husband Jason Isbell as well as Seth and Kelly Plemmons who were living with them at the time when we thought this would all be over in a few weeks. Seth is a member of her band and Kelly worked on the behind the scenes stuff. It was something that really kept me going those first weeks of lockdown when everything was so new and raw. It was wonderful to hear them play and just laugh and cry together and there was a little community in the YouTube comments for the shows. Although they were up on YouTube for a long time, sadly it seems like they’ve pulled all the videos down now.
The other online shows that I have loved have also been because of their regularity and the fact that they feel a little bit more intimate and personal. Almost every Thursday night since the pandemic started Amos Lee has been going live on Instagram on Thursday nights at 7:30. He hasn’t even been collecting tips. I’m not sure how he’s keeping himself going with no touring income. He’s done a couple of fundraisers for various organizations so whenever he does that I make sure to donate to whatever his chosen cause is. I’ve turned Thursday nights into a little bit of date night surrounding these concerts. We get take out and then I make my husband play a board game or card game with me while we listen to Amos Lee play. He’s even saved a lot of them to his IGTV so you can go back and watch if you want.
Broadway Theatre Production
Even though I had tickets to several shows later in the year I did not get to see any Broadway shows in 2020. My Company tickets were refunded. Who knows when or if that show will ever open. Our Music Man tickets were rescheduled twice and we’re now set to see the show in February of 2022. We thought it was hilarious when we were buying tickets for November 2020 in August of 2019. Little did we know.
Baltimore Theatre Production
I did get to see one show in Baltimore this year before everything shut down. It was Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage. Unlike with the one movie I saw I can’t say that this was a show I super enjoyed. Sadly I’m not sure that the new artistic director and I see eye to eye on theatre. After loving almost every show I saw there for many years as a season ticket subscriber, this past season I didn’t really like much of anything. I think most of it was chosen in the interim before she actually started so I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that when the finally do get back to being able to have actual shows there that she selects shows that are more to my liking.
Online Theatre Production
Like with concerts I saw some online theatre productions this year as well. Some were previously taped performances that were released from archives. Some were weird Zoom like things (though not actually on Zoom). And some were live productions in front of no audience. I watched several shows put on at the Old Vic in London that were produced live with no audience. It lead to me watching theatre at some very odd times given the time difference. I think my favorite was Three Kings starring Andrew Scott, who you may know as Hot Priest from Fleabag. Sometimes one person shows where it’s just one long monologue can lose my interest, but I thought he did an excellent job and the story he was telling kept me engaged.
I think I’ve mentioned Make Me Smart to some degree in this space every year since it has existed and that is not going to change this year. This year they expanded from their once a week on Tuesday episode to transitioning to a daily podcast after the pandemic started. They still do what they call the big show on Tuesdays, which is usually around a half hour or so. Then the other days they do short 15 minute episodes most of those they each bring a news story and something that makes them happy to talk about. They started naming the episodes at some point: Make Me Smart Mondays, Big Show Tuesdays, Whatta Ya Want to Know Wednesdays (in which they ditch the normal daily show format and spend the whole episode answering listener questions), Hollowed Out Shell Thursdays (because by that point in the week we all feel like hollowed out shells), and Economics on Tap Fridays (their weekly happy hour episode where they would have a drink and would often live tape over YouTube so people could see them and join in in the comments). It’s the first podcast I put on every time there’s a new episode in my feed. It helps me going and I’m so happy they expanded to 5 days a week.
Staying in with Emily and Kumail was a short lived podcast produced by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani that they put out at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. They basically just talked about their lives and the things they were enjoying and experiencing. Although she is no longer practicing Emily is a trained therapist so she had a lot of great insights to offer about what we were all experiencing and how we were experiencing them. She also is immunocompromised and at high risk for COVID so they were being extremely careful just like my husband and I have been. So it was nice to get their perspective on that as well. It’s not something that would probably make sense to listen to now if you didn’t listen to it when it was first on, but it was super helpful for me in processing everything that was happening and all the feelings I was having at the beginning of the pandemic. I get why it’s not something they kept up, but I do think it would be kind of nice to have a check in episode every once in awhile.
Once again it’s time for my annual post on the pop culture that was most memorable to me over the past year. As always it doesn’t have to be something created in 2019. It just has to be something I consumed over the past year. And as always I emphasize that these are the things that meant the most to me, not necessarily the things that I think are the best thing made in any given category. In past year’s I’ve mostly tried to limit myself to one thing per category. I’m going against that this year in several categories because who says I have to choose just one thing? Sometimes I enjoy multiple things an equal amount and don’t want to choose between them. These are the things that brought me joy this year and why shouldn’t I want to introduce you to as many great things as possible? I make the rules here, so I say no arbitrary limits on how many things I’m allowed to write about!
Movie I Saw in a Theater
I often lament the lack of good romantic comedies like there once were, so I always try and go see the few and far between rom-coms that make it into movie theaters even when I know they are going to be terrible because I want Hollywood to know there’s a market for them. This year though the one rom-com I saw in a theater was not terrible. In fact it was my favorite movie of the year, The Long Shot starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. I was slightly dubious about it because I don’t love Seth Rogen and all his drug humor. There was some of that in this movie, but just the right amount. I thought it was a very funny and sweet movie with a great modern day rom-com set-up for why the two leads just couldn’t be together.
I’ll also give a shout out to Knives Out, which was a very fun whodunit.
Movie I Watched at Home
This is the category I always have the hardest time filling out partly because I can never remember what I watched. Last year I kept a list and that worked out really well, so I thought that I would do that again this year. It didn’t really work though because every time I watched a movie at home, which wasn’t that frequently, I thought well that was okay, but I’m not even going to bother adding it to my list because there’s no way I would put it in my end of the year blog post. And that’s how it went for pretty much every movie I watched this year. There were zero movies on that list as of mid-December.
I didn’t initially think to include it because it’s not a traditional movie per se, but I’m going to go with the four hour Tom Petty documentary, Runnin’ Down a Dream. I’ve been meaning to watch it for years because Tom Petty is one of all time favorite artists and I’ve always heard good things about it. I just never wanted to commit 4 hours to it, but this year when I had a snow day back in February I thought today is the perfect day to finally watch this. It was indeed a very good music documentary. It focused mostly on Tom Petty’s musical career and didn’t delve much into his personal life, so I felt like it was a very good companion with the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes which gets much more into Tom Petty as a person.
I have two very different books I’m putting in this category this year. First is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, which I recently read for my book club. The book moves back and forth in time between 1980s Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis and 2015 Paris where you pick up with the sister of one of the young men who died and who nursed many of the men in his friend group as they too succumbed to the disease. The 1980s part is for sure the better half of the story. Some of those characters are still with me. The 2015 half while not as good is still engaging enough as to not drag the entire book down and I appreciated how everything came together at the end.
The other novel that I really loved this year was Fear of Falling by Georgia Beers. It was just a really great romance about a famous singer who recently lost her manager and whose label assigns a woman to manage her that she winds up having feelings for. It has very realistic obstacles throwing a wrench in their budding romance and I literally couldn’t put it down. We were on vacation in L.A. and my husband finally had to force me to quit reading so we could go out to the Griffith Observatory.
I actually have three non-fiction books that I want to write about. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten. In this book a reporter picks a random day out of a hat and writes a book about what happened on a day that historically we would say nothing really happened. He digs into stories that may not have garnered national attention but that certainly impacted individual people, families, and communities. I found it to be a really fascinating book.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe is fantastic book covering the modern history of the I.R.A. and the Irish troubles. It’s a really well written book that presents a lot of information in a really accessible way. I learned so much more than I ever knew and it gave me a much better understanding of why a hard border being imposed as part of Brexit would be such a big deal.
My final non-fiction book is Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan Metzl. Physician and sociologist Jonathan Metzl explores how long held ideologies based on both overt and covert racism cause people to create policies that are detrimental to their own lives. Using focus groups and lots of comparative data analysis looking at states both before and after they passed certain laws and comparing them to states with similar demographics with opposite laws. He looks at gun laws in Missouri and how they have led to a huge increase in gun based suicide by white men. In Tennessee he examines the decision to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act causing significantly worse health outcomes compared to people in Kentucky where the Medicaid expansion was passed. Finally, he looks at tax cuts passed in Kansas particularly focusing on the effects on education. It’s a really well-researched book and a really compelling though maddening read.
As much as I lament the lack of certain types of tv shows that once existed in larger quantities before streaming and prestige television took over there were still a number of tv shows that gave me great pleasure this year. I have already implored you multiple times to watch both Atypicaland The Bold Type, and I’m not sure I have much new to say about them. However, as far as I know I haven’t convinced anyone else to watch them yet, so I’m going to keep trying because they are really great shows. I rarely rewatch tv shows because there’s always so much new stuff out there, but I’m already considering an Atypical rewatch because I miss those characters.
Chernobyl was an excellent show. I avoided watching it for a long time despite all the rave reviews because I thought it was going to be too depressing. I thought maybe I’ll watch just one episode a week to make it more bearable and then I wound up binge watching it because it was so good.
Derry Girls was pure delight. I also liked that having read Say Nothing meant I had a little better insight into the time and place when the show is set, but it’s not really necessary to know that much about the Irish Troubles to enjoy the show. It’s just a wonderful broad comedy about teenagers in Derry, Ireland in the 80s. The 12 episodes that exist right now are just not enough. I can’t wait until the release more.
Speechless ended its run on a high note back in the spring. If you’re unfamiliar it’s a sit-com about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy and who is played by an actor who does in fact have CP. It was a funny and heartfelt show that I think ended in a perfect way even if I wish we got more episodes. Also a special shout out to two other shows I loved that ended their runs this year Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin.
Unbelievable was a really well done limited series based on a true story of a young woman who was raped and not believed and the two female cops working on rape cases years later who finally brought her justice. It stars Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Weaver giving excellent performances.
I also really enjoyed Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music. It was well worth the 16 and half hours of my time. I even wanted more because he didn’t go far enough in time for my liking. Maybe he’ll add more onto it down the line at some point.
I also would be remiss to not include Grey’s Anatomy because it’s still one of my favorite shows to watch every week. Last season and this season have felt like somewhat of a resurgence for the show even though I’m super annoyed with all the tie-ins to Station 19 to try and force people to start watching that. Seems like it’s only going to get worse when that show actually returns after the new year, which is just going to make me madder. All they’ve done is make me never, ever want to watch that show just out of principle.
The best tv episode I watched this year is also the hardest episode of anything I think I’ve ever watched. It was the fifth and final episode of the limited series When They See Us about the Exonerated Five who were wrongly convicted of brutally attacking and raping a woman in Central Park when they were teenagers. The final episode focuses on the experiences of Korey Wise, who was the oldest of the boys and the only one sent to an adult prison. It’s a brutal watch even beyond the rest of this series, which is extremely difficult but important.
In an entirely different vein, I love episodes of character based tv shows that just feel like a joyous pay-off for the characters where you get to mostly just watch them enjoy themselves. It obviously wouldn’t make for compelling television if every episode were like this, but I love when a show has developed its characters enough that they get a well deserved episode to just have fun and have good things happen to them. Season 2, Episode 9 of Pose, “Life’s a Beach”, felt like that. There were many excellent episodes in season 2 of this show which only got better this season in no small part because they dropped the stupid white characters from season one that were obviously there to sell the show to the network. Anyway, in this episode the ladies get to mostly take a break from their struggles and head away to a weekend at the beach. Their road trip is wonderful and watching them singing together in the car on the drive to the beach brought me great joy.
If you don’t know what’s coming in this category then you obviously have not been paying attention to anything happening here in the past year. There were two albums that dominated my 2019. Way back on January 18 when it was released I predicted that Maggie Rogers’ Heard It in a Past Life would very likely be my album of the year, and I was not wrong. Every amazing album that came after it in 2019 did not manage to unseat it from my heart. It is by far the album I have listened to the most in 2019 (my highly skewed Spotify stats notwithstanding). I adore every song on it, and it’s one I’m sure I’m going to continue to go back to in 2020.
The album that Spotify thinks is my most played album of 2019 is the other album that deserves a spot here and that’s the debut (and maybe only) album by The Highwomen the country super group composed of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. Spotify thinks that because I did for sure listen to this album a lot, but unlike other albums pretty much only on Spotify because I bought the album as a physical CD along with a hoodie and bumper sticker. The CD is still sitting under my coffee table wrapped in cellophane. It’s too much of a pain to drag out the external optical drive to upload the songs from the CD onto my computer (#firstworldproblems).
The Highwomen’s album is full of amazing songs by these women that seek to uplift other women. As they have said many times it’s more than an album or a group it’s a movement. I adore everything that it stands for. I love these women together and separately. Even though the idea for the group came from Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile has sort of been the front woman for the project. I’ve heard them call her their quarterback. This is only a small part of what she’s doing to lift up other women in music and there’s a reason I will follow her to the ends of the earth (I already have tickets to see her three times in 2020 in places nowhere near where I live.)
Recently she was awarded the Trailblazer Award for Women in Music by Billboard. It so happens that Maggie Rogers was the one to present the award to her and Maggie’s speech pretty much exemplifies why I love both of these women so much.
2019 was a fantastic year for music. My 2019 playlist of songs I loved during the year is longer than any playlist I’ve created by over half. I’ll share that in a future post, but for now I’m going to focus on a single song here even though I could include a hundred. It’s the title song from The Highwomen called “Highwomen”. It’s a rewrite of the song from The Highwaymen, the 80s and 90s male country super group which they created a female alternative to. It re-imagines the lyrics with each verse telling the story of a woman who was persecuted. It’s an incredibly powerful song. I first heard it before it was even released when they performed it at the Newport Folk Festival. It gave me chills and made me know for sure that this album was going to be something that I loved to my very core.
Actually I lied. I have two songs because I was just reviewing the list I keep throughout the year for this blog post and realized that I had Gary Clark Jr.’s song “This Land” listed under this category as a possibility and I think it deserves a mention. It is one of the most powerful songs I can remember hearing and the video just drives it home. When I watched his Austin City Limits episode I was wondering if they were going to bleep the n-word in this song, which they did. But then I saw a promo for the episode that included a snippet of this song that didn’t bleep it. Go figure.
I usually don’t allow myself to choose a set from The Newport Folk Festival to go in this spot because I’m pretty sure I would never write about anything that didn’t happen at Newport ever again. Perhaps I should just create a new category for the best thing I saw at Newport, but I’m not going to do it this year. I am however going to write about two sets that happened at Newport though because one would have been the highlight of my year if it weren’t for the second and the second is the literally the most amazing musical experience I have ever had in my life so there was no way I couldn’t include it here.
The first set I’m referring to was The Highwomen’s debut and as of this writing still the only actual full concert set they’ve done. I thought that they would at least do a couple dates in conjunction with the release of their album and was willing to travel anywhere to see them again, but they never did and at this point I don’t know if they ever will. I’ve seen up to three of the four of them join each other for a few songs at each other’s shows, but no other full on performances. I’ll be seeing Brandi Carlile at the Ryman in January and Natalie Hemby is opening for her. Since Amanda Shires and Maren Morris both live in Nashville and it doesn’t look like either one of them will be touring then I’m hoping maybe we can get a little reunion during that show if Maren isn’t in labor since she’ll be hugely pregnant by then. Anyway, I feel so blessed to have seen them perform. The album wasn’t out yet at that point and listening to them play it through I knew it was going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Since I already embedded my favorite song in this post here’s a song I love, but the best part of this video is the intro.
The other set was obviously the Saturday night all-female headlining set curated by Brandi Carlile with surprise guest Dolly Parton. It still really don’t have any words for it. It was truly magical to see so many awesome women up on stage together collaborating. It would take me to long to even name them all. One of the stories I read about it after the fact said something to the effect of can someone please go check on Jade Bird and make sure she’s all right. She was smiling so big up on the stage I’m worried she hurt herself. It’s true. I went back and looked at her in some of the video and I don’t think she could have been smiling any harder. That’s how I feel about it. I still smile every time I think about it. Newport always surprises me, but I don’t know how anything can ever possibly top this experience in my book.
Broadway Theatre Production
For some reason I apparently was very into pop culture reflecting stories about 1980s Northern Ireland and the Irish troubles in 2019. I don’t know why. It’s not something I sought out. It just happened. This is all a lead in to say that my favorite thing I saw on Broadway this year was the play The Ferryman. It’s for certain the longest show I’ve ever seen as a three act play clocking in at 3 hours and 15 minutes including a 15 minute intermission and a 2 minute “pause”. It has a sprawling cast of people from seniors to a real baby about which I jokingly wondered how many babies do they have backstage to make sure they have one that isn’t crying during the show? It pretty much had all your emotions covered bringing you through experiences of great joy and others of sadness. It was also super intense at times particularly the ending, which I did not really see coming. I left that play thinking I have no idea how those actors do that 8 times per week. It’s closed on Broadway now, but if you ever get a chance to see a production I highly recommend it.
Baltimore Theatre Production
I adored Come From Away when I saw it on Broadway and saw it again in 2019 as part of our 2018/2019 season tickets at the Hippodrome. It was just as effecting as when I saw it the first time. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite musicals ever. It’s still running on Broadway and if you’re ever in New York looking for a show to see I can’t recommend it highly enough. Don’t let the fact that it’s about 9/11 make you think you’ll leave horribly depressed because you won’t. Of course there are sad and difficult parts, but it will also leave you filled with a hope for humanity that seems in very short supply these days. The current cast did a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR this year on the anniversary of 9/11, which will give you a great taste of the show.
I still love Make Me Smart, which I’ve mentioned in this category the past two years, but this year I’m branching out and talking about two limited series podcasts. At a total of 19 episodes between the two of them you can listen to them both in less than a day’s time. I seriously did listen to Bhi Bhiman’s Peace of Mind in a single day save for the final episode, which hadn’t dropped yet when I discovered the podcast. It’s billed as the first album released as a podcast. Bhi Bhiman wrote a bunch of songs related to social and political issues and then recorded podcast episodes exploring further the topics he wrote about in his songs. It’s really fascinating and is something I for sure have never seen done before.
The other podcast I have to recommend to you is Dolly Parton’s America, which I feel like everyone has been listening to. I’ve seen so much written about it, posted on social media, talked about on other podcasts, etc. I even overheard the people at the table next to me at brunch the other week talking about it. Jad Abumrad uses interviews he had with Dolly over the course of several years as a spring board to talk not only about her and her career but how they relate to the larger country and the issues we face as a whole. It’s really great.
Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed and very much recommend all the episodes of the podcasts I just talked about, but I thought I would branch out a little for my favorite episode and talk about the two episodes (part 1, part 2) of the Out of the Blocks podcast titled “Out of the Docks”. I’m not going to lie. There’s a good chance I picked these episodes just because I love the punny episode title so much. In these episodes rather than visiting a single city block in Baltimore like they normally do they talk to people who live and work on boats in some of Baltimore’s harbors. It was a fascinating look at the difficulties of living on a boat and the reasons why people choose to do it.
Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.
Movie I Saw in a Theatre
I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.
STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.
Movie I Watched at Home
Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.
My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.
Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.
Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.
All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.
Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.
No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.
There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.
“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”
For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.
I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.
Broadway Theatre Production
I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.
Baltimore Theatre Production
I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.
I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.
My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.
My husband was up in NYC yesterday for World Makerfaire and visiting his family. I had previously bought tickets for a concert that weekend, so I wasn’t able to join him. In addition to the concert on Saturday night I also made plans to go to the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday afternoon. For various reasons it worked out that the friends that I was going to go to these things with were not able to go with me, so I spent the day having a date with myself. Luckily I’m not someone who cares about doing things alone. I know some people feel self-conscious about it and would choose to stay home rather than doing something by themselves. I’m hear to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about it. It’s much better to do things that you love alone than not do them at all. Plus sometimes it even means really good things will happen to you as it worked out for yesterday.
The Baltimore Book Festival is pretty small and not something I generally get that excited about unless there happens to be a particular author I’m interested in, which there isn’t every year. This year there were two panels I was interested in, but sadly they were not on the same day. My book club conflicted with the Sunday panel, so I decided I would go down on Saturday instead. After a crazy morning dealing with a work issue I almost thought about bailing, but I didn’t and I’m really glad I wound up going because the panel was fantastic.
It was scheduled in the Food for Thought tent, which typically has food authors and cooking demonstrations in it. I don’t know how this panel came to be, but whoever put it together has my whole-hearted thanks. It was Laura Lippman, Michael Ruhlman, and Ann Hood speaking about food and fiction while cooking grilled cheese sandwiches. Laura Lippman’s forthcoming book, Sunburn, which is due out in February 2018 but which I had a galley of and have already read, features a scene where one of the characters cooks the woman he’s trying to impress a really fancy grilled cheese sandwich. Michael Ruhlman is a chef and author who Laura consulted regarding what realistically a person might have on hand in a kitchen in 1995 that they would make into a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. His most recent book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, is one of the better books I’ve read in 2017 so I definitely recommend checking it out. His wife Ann Hood joined them. She is apparently also an author, but I’ve never read anything she’s written. They were great together. The panel was really lively and fun. And I have new trick to try next time I’m cooking bacon. If the three of them had a cooking show together I would definitely watch.
The second part of my date I went to see David Gray and Alison Krauss at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The friend I was supposed to go with failed to put it on her calendar when we got tickets months prior and then wound up being out of town this weekend. I tried to find someone else to take the ticket last minute after we realized, but no one wanted it. So I just went by myself. That wound up being a really good thing.
I managed to snag myself a spot at the front of the lawn even though I got there an hour after the doors opened. The concert was not anywhere close to sold out, which helped. Plus I didn’t bring a chair, so I could sit where the lawn had a steeper slope. Being in that spot made it easy to meet up with one of my librarian friends who lives in Northern Virginia and was also at the concert with her sister. They had pavilion seats, but stopped out on the lawn to say hi to me for a few minutes. So it was fun to see her.
The concert was basically two sets with the artists co-headlining. During the set change some guy came up to me on the lawn and asked me if I was alone and if so did I want to upgrade my seat. I said yes, and sure. Then he gave me his ticket inside the pavilion. Not only that, but it turned out it was in row D down in the pit. I have no idea what his deal was, but I’m super grateful to him. At first I figured he had come to the concert to see David Gray and wasn’t interested in sticking around to see Alison Krauss, but when I got down to the seat the guy next to me told me that no one had been sitting there during David Gray’s set so I’m not sure what the guy who gave me the ticket was doing. Not only did I get to move way down front, I wound up in the best row ever. Right next to me were an older gay couple who were plying me chocolates and who were super excited about Alison Krauss. They kept shaking each other in giddy excitement whenever there were some particularly great harmonies. I loved it. And then on the other side of them was a woman who was probably in her 70s who was really getting her chair dancing groove on. Hashtag life goals. So it turns out I should be thankful that my friend screwed up and couldn’t go with me or I never would have wound up there.
The concert itself was full of a lot of really great music. David Gray and Alison Krauss sure can sing. Alison Krauss’s melodic voice is pretty much what imagine angels singing must sound like. All the music was amazing and I can’t complain about that at all. I was very happy to sit outside on a beautiful night and listen to it.
All in all it was not my idea of a great show though. It pretty much was all about the music. For some people that’s great. I know there is a rift between people who would prefer for artists to get up stage and use pretty much all their time playing versus people who enjoy the stage banter and other things that can happen during concerts. I fall firmly on the side of preferring stage banter and storytelling along with the music. There wasn’t really any of that last night from either artist. This is the second time I’ve seen David Gray and he really hasn’t said much of anything either time, so I imagine that’s just his m.o. I’ve seen Alison Krauss before and she has talked more between songs than she did last night. It’s how I know that she’s always cold. My husband even asked if she was wearing a winter coat last night even though it was like 70 degrees because of that whole thing the first time we saw her. The answer to that question by the way was yes. I also would have liked it if they had sung at least one song together, but alas it was very much like we were at two completely different shows. It was still a lovely evening with two artists whose music I love, and who I would see again, but it’s never going to be a concert I rave to anyone about how amazing it was.
It was a really fun day all around. I’m a pretty good date. I’d definitely go out with me again.
Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2016, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2016. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.
Movie I Saw in a Theatre
I’m pretty sure I saw more movies in the theatre in 2016 than I have in a long time. I’ve seen 4 movies since Thanksgiving alone, which is very unusual for my life these days. I enjoyed most of the movies I saw, but I’m giving this category to La La Land. It was the one movie I saw this year that I almost immediately wanted to see again. It wasn’t a perfect movie. It didn’t quite live up to its promise as a movie musical. It started out with a bunch of musical numbers and then almost completely dropped them until the end. It was a little uneven, but I still loved it. It’s a beautiful to look at, and I really could just watch Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling interact forever. Their relationship seemed so real. At the time I saw it I was a little disappointed that they didn’t end up together even though realistically that’s what should have happened. Usually I would have enjoyed that ending, but wasn’t in the mood for at the time. In retrospect though I can appreciate it, and whatever my feelings about it were they did not detract from my love of the movie as a whole.
Movie I Watched at Home
Last year I said I should probably retire this category because I don’t watch that many movies at home, and I had a hard time thinking of any. I’m still singing that tune this year, but I’m apparently not quite yet ready to let it go because it’s still here. In doing a review I discovered I actually watched a lot more movies at home than I thought, but I literally had to go back and look because I couldn’t remember any of them. Once I did though the obvious choice was Sing Street. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a sweet little film that takes place in 1980’s Dublin about a teenage boy who starts a band to impress a girl. The songs in it were all written for the movie, but definitely evoke the sounds of 80s music. It’s a delightful little film.
Alas my great streak with books I loved last year did not continue into this year. I did manage to meet my reading goal of 100 books for the year, but there were very few I rated above 3 stars on Goodreads. This category like several other ones exemplified how out of sync I was with pop culture this year. Almost every best of book list I saw had Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad as it’s top pick. I did not care for that book. The fiction book I most enjoyed did show up on most lists as well, so I guess I wasn’t completely off. It was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Essentially its a series of connected short stories, which makes it unusual that I would like it that much since I generally don’t care for short stories. The thread that connects them though is following two lines of a family through two sisters on the Gold Coast of Africa, one who is sold into slavery and the other who becomes a slave traders wife from their lives in the 1600s up through present day. Each story is essentially a new generation. It was a wonderful and heartbreaking book that really demonstrates how the sins of the past continue to haunt the present even hundreds of years later.
I had much better luck with non-fiction books this year than fiction ones. Most of the books I rated over 3 stars on Goodreads were non-fiction. My favorite non-fiction book of the year was another book that was not very uplifting, but was extremely interesting. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond explores poverty and housing through the lens of the city of Milwaukee. Desmond explores the intricacies of housing and the tenant/landlord relationship especially when dealing with people living in poverty. Many books like this seem to take sides, but Desmond does a really good job in following a couple of landlords and their tenants at showing how complicated the relationship and that there are failings on both sides.
With as much good scripted television as there is these days I feel like I’m going a little off book in declaring my favorite tv show of the year as Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It was the biggest surprise to me because I was never the hugest fan of Samantha Bee when she was a Daily Show correspondent, especially towards the end of Jon Stewart’s run when she really seemed to be going off the rails a little bit. I didn’t even plan on watching Full Frontal because I figured it was just going to be more of the same stuff I wasn’t enjoying on The Daily Show, but my husband insisted that we at least try it out and I’m very glad he did. Full Frontal is really smart, and I appreciate having a woman’s voice in the late night world, especially one who will focus on woman’s issues in a way that no one else is. I’m definitely going to need Sam Bee’s outrage to help keep me sane as we move into the horrors of whatever this Trump presidency is about to bring us.
I stopped watching Halt and Catch Fire a few episodes into its first season, but decided to get caught up this summer after hearing so many people talk about how much better the second season was. So in a way it’s a little surprising to me that my favorite episode of the year was from the third season of this show. Season 3, Episode 7 – The Threshold is a great hour of television. Donna and Cameron’s relationship and their building of Mutiny together was the heart of season 2 and what turned this show into something worth watching. Watching it fall apart in this episode was sad but wonderfully acted and excellent to watch.
Music is where my tastes really did not converge with critics or other music listeners as my favorite songs and albums really didn’t show up on any best of 2016 lists. My favorite album of the year was Joseph’s I’m Alone, No You’re Not. Joseph is a group of three sisters who have wonderful harmonies but some of their songs also have a great pop sensibility. I love this whole album, and I hope to be able to see them play more of the album live in 2017.
I suspect the song I’m putting in this category has a bit of recency bias. I suspect that if I first fell in love with this song say back in March instead of November that I’d probably be sick of it and wouldn’t be including it here, but Wrabel’s 11 Blocks was the song that I loved to sing along to in the car more than any other song this year and the one I always hoped I would hear on the radio when I was driving which is what it earns it this spot. Realistically my choice here should have been Joseph’s SOS (Overboard), which I love and is probably the song I listened to most this year.
Every year my real favorite concert experience is going to the Newport Folk Festival. This year that was no exception. I was already beat down my 2016 at the end of July and that weekend was such a balm for my soul, but I always like to pick another show from the year for this category since Newport being a festival isn’t really a single concert. This year my favorite concert was Garth Brooks. I never got to see him back in the 90s, so I’m glad I finally got the chance. He is an amazing performer and manages to make an arena show feel intimate and so fun. It was so fun to sing along to all those songs of his I loved and also to see Trisha Yearwood perform some of her songs. They are some of the first country artists I ever fell in love with and it was great to finally get a chance to see them live.
Broadway Theatre Production
In last year’s post I named Hamilton my favorite theatre production of the year and said I’m going again in April of 2016 so maybe it will be my favorite show of 2016 too. Let’s be realistic. It was. But I also saw other great Broadway shows this year. So even though the best show I saw was Hamilton again, I’m going to put She Loves Me in this category. The production starred Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi and it was delightful. I even paid to re-watch it online when they broadcast a recording of it later in the year.
Baltimore Theatre Production
My favorite theatre production that I saw in Baltimore snuck in at the last moment. It was the touring production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The Broadway production won the Tony for Best New Musical in 2014 and I’ve wanted to see it for years. It was never something that I felt that I needed to see on Broadway though given the limited number of shows I get to see there each year. I always knew I was going to wait until it toured to see it, so I was happy that it finally came around as part of our season tickets to the Hippodrome this year. It was a great show and well worth the wait. It was extremely smart and clever and a show the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long time.
I already gave away in a post a few weeks ago that my favorite pocast this year was Out of the Blocks, a local Baltimore podcast from Aaron Henkin and Wendel Patrick. Their tag line One City Block, One Hour of Radio, Everybody’s Story pretty much describes what the podcast is about. It’s a fascinating look at the city and in the human condition. I highly recommend it to everyone not just people from Baltimore.
If Out of the Blocks didn’t exist Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs would have gotten my vote in the previous category. Instead they’ll get the mention in favorite podcast episode. I of course had to pick the episode where they discuss the song I requested, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”.
Baltimore has many great things and one of those is the Book Thing. They are literally just a giant book exchange open on weekends. People can donate books and then anyone can go in and take as many books as they want. I know a number of teachers who go in and cull their shelves to fill bookshelves in their classrooms. Honestly I always have more books than I need in my house so I’ve never actually brought anything home, but I have certainly donated trunk loads full of books. The piles of books I bring home from librarian conferences always eventually make their way there. I’m always seeing people wondering where they can donate used books, and I always feel a little sad that wherever they live doesn’t have the Book Thing.
Sadly this past week there was a fire at the Book Thing. Needless to say fire, smoke, and water don’t mix with books or buildings for that matter. They opened up this weekend to help clean out some of the books that were salvageable, but after that they’ll be closed for the foreseeable future as they work on rebuilding. I’m really happy to hear that they plan on rebuilding as something like this could very easily just feel like they need to pack it in. I donated some money to their PayPal account to help out. If you’re in Baltimore (or even if you’re not) I encourage you to help them out. I look forward to their eventual return.
Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2015, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2015. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.
Movie I Saw in a Theatre
I jokingly want to say Aloha for this category because I insisted I was going to see that movie in the theatre no matter how bad the reviews were because I miss romantic comedies. I wanted to tell Hollywood hey I miss these please make more. Well the joke was on me because the reviews were uniformly awful. I kept my word though and although I admit the movie was a hot mess I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed it much more than the reviews led me to believe I would. Hopefully Hollywood will get its act together and make more movies aimed at women. It’s not only the romantic comedies that are missing, but more dramatic stuff the likes of Beaches and Steel Magnolias back in the day.
The real movie I’m putting in this category is of course Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really didn’t expect this movie to affect me as much as it did. I’ve seen the original trilogy a number of times and due diligently saw the prequels in the theatre not really enjoying any of them. I’m not any huge Star Wars nerd though. I didn’t have high hopes for this movie and had it lived down to my expectations I wouldn’t really have cared all that much.
I really loved this movie though. The fight scenes even kept me engaged and I could give a flying flip about movie fight scenes. Mostly though I adored the whole storyline with Rey. I never even knew how much I longed for a female lead in the Star Wars universe that actually did something until I saw this. It made me so happy that young girls like my 5 year old niece who is already into Star Wars will have a character to look up to when she’s old enough to see it. I’m actually looking forward to the next one in the series. Well done J. J. Abrams.
Movie I Watched at Home
I should really retitle this category movie I watched on a plane because I’m not even sure I watched any movies at home this year. I’m sure I did, but I can’t think of any off of the top of my head. I really prefer tv shows so much more than movies now that we’re in this golden age of television. Generally the only time I wind up watching movies unless I go to see something in the theatre is on long airplane flights.
I think of the few movies I viewed on planes this year Whiplash is the one I enjoyed the most. It’s nothing I’d ever want to watch again because it’s super intense and not really anything I’d want to sit through again. Still I thought it was a well done movie, and it kept me interested despite the description not at all appealing to me.
I read a lot of really good books this year, so it’s hard to decide in both this category and the non-fiction category. If you want a full accounting of the books I’ve read visit my book reviews blog. Ultimately I’m choosing The Royal We for this category because it is the one book I remember reading this year that I couldn’t put down. There were a number of others that I also really enjoyed and gave the same rating to, but this is the book that I couldn’t stop reading.
For my non-fiction book I’m choosing Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA by Roberta Kaplan. I feel like it deserves the nod given the historic ruling on same sex marriage that happened this year and which seems like one of the few bright spots in the blight of a year that was 2015. Also I really appreciated the fact that even though I knew the outcome the case the book was written so well I was kept on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened.
I watch a ridiculous amount of tv, so this is a hard category for me. I binge watched all the seasons of Gossip Girl early in the year. I really enjoyed it and feel like it’s the last of the television shows of its ilk that I have to go through, which makes me a little sad. I love a good teen drama, which Gossip Girl definitely was.
Deutschland 83 was my favorite show of the summer. As I mentioned in my post dedicated to it I think one of the reasons is that the fact that it’s in German with English subtitles forced me to pay attention to it in ways that I don’t with most tv shows I watch these days. I suspect I might enjoy some other shows more if I dedicated more attention to them. That of course isn’t the only thing that makes this good though. It’s a great spy drama on it’s own and I hope it gets a second season.
This was a fairly weak class of new fall tv shows this year. My favorite of what we’ve been given is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I was a little worried that this show would lose it’s way quickly, but so far it has been delightful every week. The songs are still great and the fact that Rebecca seems self aware to a degree that her actions are insane make it not as uncomfortable to watch as one would thing. Trust me I hate watching people embarrass themselves in tv and movies. I seriously have to watch it through my fingers. I was worried that this show would force me to do that all the time, but it really hasn’t even though Rebecca is constantly doing embarrassing stuff.
Last year I named a Parenthood episode as my favorite episode of television from 2014 and I think I’m going to repeat that this year. Parenthood ended its run early in 2015, so I’m going way back here, but the Parenthood finale is the one that really sticks out in my mind. I still miss that show and wonder what the Bravermans are up to. The finale was everything I would have wanted it to be and featured some stellar music. So here’s one last shout out to an excellent show that I wish I were still on my tv.
Last year I was almost at a loss as to what to put in this category because I felt like 2014 was such a pitiful year in music. 2015 however has been an embarrassment of riches, which almost makes it harder. Last year I just wound up choosing the album I listened to most over the course of the year. This year there’s been so much that even though I liked the music more I haven’t listened to any single album as much as I listened to the few from last year.
I mean if we’re going to talk about which album I listened to the most this year it actually has to be the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording. I definitely listened to that more than anything else and that’s saying something seeing as how it wasn’t released until September.
Probably though I’m really trying to decide between Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Brandi Carlile’s Firewatcher’s Daughter. I was very much looking forward to Something More Than Free since I adored Southeastern so much, but I was also scared that there was no way it was going to live up to my expectations. I didn’t need to worry because it far surpassed them. It’s a gorgeous album full of songs that paint pictures that just kill me. I remember people talking so much about beautiful, painful realism of small town life created in Friday Night Lights and Isbell’s lyrics on this album evoke that same exact feeling in me.
Brandi Carlile is one artist who I never worry about if I’m going to like her next album because so far I’ve liked every single one better than the last. Firewatcher’s Daughter is no exception. I did keep forgetting that it came out in 2015 though because somehow it seems like it’s been with me forever. The songs are beautiful pictures of what home and family mean and this album really seems to elevate her to a place she wasn’t before. I adore it.
Ok guys stay with me here. I can’t believe this myself, but the song I have to write about here is Justin Beiber’s “What Do You Mean”. That’s part of the reason I have to write about it. Remember this is the most memorable song not the best song of the year we’re talking about here. I would never claim that this song was the best song of 2015, but it’s certainly memorable in that it’s the first Justin Beiber song I have actively liked and looked forward to hearing on the radio. I know I’ve heard other Justin Beiber songs, but I honestly couldn’t name you one and am not confident I could tell you I was listening to a Beiber song if you played one for me without me knowing what it was. I was shocked how much I loved and still like this song. So way to go Justin Beiber you’ve apparently graduated beyond attracting the tween /teen set.
Ok so there no way this category wasn’t going to be Jason Isbell. I was sitting here thinking whether there was someone else should go here when I saw him tweet that 2015 was the best year of his life and then I thought who am I kidding of course it’s Jason Isbell. I assume the birth of his daughter by far beats out anything else to make this the best year of his life, but the incredible success of his album Something More Than Free I’m sure also factors in. It debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at number 6 and the Country and Rock album charts at number 1. It’s quite an accomplishment and it’s of course what is partly making me choose him as my artist of the year.
I also chose him because even 2 years after falling in love with his Southeastern album my love has not abated. I waited patiently as Newport rolled out their lineup this year and was never as excited as the day they announced he would be playing a set there. His lyrics cut me to my soul with their beauty and realism. He’s the artist I talked about the most and recommended the most in 2015 so of course this category belongs to him.
I went to so many good concerts this year that it’s really hard to choose which one I want to write about here so I’ll probably write about a few that stand out to me. Obviously the Newport Folk Festival as an entire experience wins hands down every year, but I like to think about that more in terms of sets in order to be fair to every other concert I see throughout the year. The Consequence of Sound named Newport their top festival pick of the year and in this great article that really expresses my feelings about the festival Jay Sweet says he worries about people’s expectations and no longer being able to beat them every year. I am over here telling him he has absolutely nothing to worry about as long as he keeps bringing in good music. I don’t need any big headliners or crazy surprise guests. Those are all fun, but the best sets I’ve seen in each of the past three years have all been from bands I only knew about because they were playing Newport. This year was Christopher Paul Stelling whose whole set was revelation. Mostly just him up there on his guitar and he had the audience eating out of his hand. I didn’t know him before I chose to sit in on that set, but I do now. His set was amazing and ended with this awesome moment of him proposing to his girlfriend and backup singer as they were walking off stage.
I also have to mention Brandi Carlile’s set at Newport this year because she is never not amazing. I never leave one of her shows without immediately wanting to see her again as soon as possible. NPR had a recording of the entire set up on their website and I have listened to it countless times because it is so wonderful.
There was also the great first concert in the BSO Pulse series featuring Dawes in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra collaborates with an indie band. I love musical collaboration and this one was fantastic. I loved how the BSO is using these collaborations to help introduce new audiences to classical music and I guess maybe some classical music lovers to some new indie bands. I look forward to seeing more of the concerts in this series in the future.
Finally I have to give a shout out to Florence + the Machine. She’s been fantastic every time I’ve seen her and this year’s concert at Merriweather was no exception. I was on my feet dancing the whole time and it was definitely again one of those shows where I left and immediately wanted to see her again.
Broadway Theatre Production
Well this one is a no-brainer. I was fortunate to see Hamilton right after it moved from Off-Broadway to it’s Broadway run. Now you can maybe get tickets a year out. I’m actually going again in April, so maybe it will be my favorite show of 2016 too. For now it’s definitely my favorite show of 2015 and one of the best shows I’ve seen in a very long time. The hype is not overblown. One of the things I love about it too is that it has people I never see talking about theatre talking about theatre. Most of the time when I talk about theatre most of my friends eyes glaze over and they have no idea what I’m talking about. This show has managed to permeate the culture enough that even my friends who don’t follow theatre know what I’m talking about. It was also one of the few things that made Twitter a delightful place to be this year instead of all doom and gloom and yelling at each other. The day it was announced that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the song for the cantina scene in the new Star Wars resulting in the Star Wars/Hamilton mashups was one of the best days.
Baltimore Theatre Production
My favorite local theatre production was Centerstage’s Marley written and directed by their Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. It was a musical based on the life of Bob Marley. It was a jukebox musical, which I typically don’t care for. However I liked the way the songs were incorporated into the show in this case as if for the most part they were naturally being sung instead of being shoehorned into telling the story. It was a really fun show and a great way to end the 2014/2015 season.
I am really choosing this particular podcast episode because I decided I really wanted this category to be about my favorite new podcast of the year which is Switched on Pop. I adore the way they break down pop songs and really get to what makes a pop song and how they’re related musicologically to music back through history including Classical music. I’m choosing to highlight Episode 14: The Final Dropout in which they discuss how it’s become very popular for pop music to end with a sort of sudden quiet moment. It’s a great and fun look at a current musical trend in pop music and is very representative of the podcast as a whole.
I hosted one of my book clubs this weekend. For this book club we always meet at someone’s house and the host prepares food that is somehow thematically tied to the book. Sometimes that is easier than others depending on how often food is talked about in the particular book you’re reading. My pick for book club was Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
This particular book club does thematic choices. Each person hosts once under a particular theme and then we pick a new one. This book was our first read for our current theme of non-American authors. The book is about a Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States and then chooses to return to Nigeria after 15 years. It’s a really excellent book. I highly recommend it. I’ll eventually have a fuller review of the book on my book reviews blog once I catch up over there.
Anyway, most of the food the author mentions is the character’s experience eating American foods like hot dogs and McDonalds, none of which I was going to feed my book club. She did have one scene set around making coconut rice and chicken. I made the coconut rice from this recipe, which was delicious though I would skip the parboiling step as I thought the rice got too mushy though the flavors were great.
I used this recipe for the chicken. I’m sure I would have figured it out on my own, but the comments were super helpful to remind me use a splatter screen in all the steps. I’m sure it saved me a huge mess. That was a nice change from usual recipe comments which normally wind up being hundreds of people saying all the ways they changed the recipe such that it no longer resembles the initial recipe and is impossible to tell if that recipe is actually any good.
I was going to make fried plantains because she does mention plantains in the book, but I didn’t plan far enough ahead and all the plantains at the store were super green. I stumbled across bags of plantain chips in the international aisle though, so I was lazy and just got those. It wasn’t mentioned in the book at all, but I found a recipe for a Nigerian dessert called shuku shuku, and I made those. I also through together a salad that was in no related to Nigerian food nor the book, but I thought it might be nice to have something in the meal that wasn’t beige.
I think everything turned out pretty well, and we had a very lively discussion surrounding the book even though I’m the only one who wound up having enough time to finish it after we decided on the date fairly close to our actual meeting.
It’s time once again for my annual round up of the pop culture that I have found the most memorable over the past year. As I point out every year this is not a best of list. I don’t necessarily think any of these things are the top in their categories. Instead this is a compilation of the things I most enjoyed this year and that meant the most to me in 2014.
This list was actually little harder than usual for me to put together this year because in many ways it felt like a very meh year in pop culture to me. Not in every category, but particularly in music and books there weren’t any real standouts to me. I definitely am not the only one who felt that way about music. I’ve heard a lot of professional music critics saying the same thing, so I feel justified in that. I’m not sure everyone else felt the same about books. Perhaps I just wasn’t reading the right things, but out out of the 125 books I read in 2014 I only rated 4 of them 5 stars on Goodreads. I felt like I had way more than usual that I gave 2 or 3 stars to. Hopefully 2015 will be a better year for me in these areas.
Movie I Saw in a Theatre
Last year in this category I talked about Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. This year he gets another mention with his film Boyhood, which was filmed over a period of 12 years following the life of a young boy with all of the actors returning periodically to film scenes so that as the actors aged the characters did as well. It was an impressive piece of filmmaking and deserves every lovely thing that has been said about it. With a project like this it can sometimes feel like you’re supposed to love it because it’s like nothing that has ever been done before, but in this case the movie itself and the story it tells are wonderful and it’s not just the gimmick that is deserving of praise.
I would also be remiss not to mention the Veronica Mars movie in this category. I guess like Boyhood it also has some historic value as the first crowdsourced movie to be released in movie theatres. I loved the show and this movie was everything I hoped it would be. I certainly don’t think every canceled television show should have a movie made from it. In most cases I think it would only result in diminished returns, but in this case I supported it and think it really worked.
Movie I Watched at Home
I so rarely watch movies at home, I almost thought I didn’t have anything to put into this category this year. Then I remembered that we recently rented Chef with some free credits we had from Amazon from deferring 2 day shipping on our Prime account. I had heard lovely things about this movie when it was in theatres, but it just didn’t work out for us to see it at that time. I remember it being out when we were vacationing in Key West last May. There was a little theatre a couple blocks from the place we were staying that was advertising it. Had it actually been playing while we were there we probably would have gone to see it one night, but it didn’t start until the night before we left. When we were looking for something use our credit on, I remembered this movie and decided it’s what we should rent.
It’s a great little movie written by, directed by, and starring Jon Favreau. His character, as the title suggests, is a chef who falls down on his luck and loses his job. In trying to figure out what to do from there and really use his culinary skills in the way he wants to he connects with his young son who he has grown distant from since his divorce from his son’s mother. If you haven’t seen it I definitely recommend checking it out.
As I was mentioning above I didn’t really feel like a read a whole lot of books this year that I really loved. I definitely had to look through my Goodreads list to see what I actually even gave a good rating to because there wasn’t anything that was jumping to the top of my memory. I rated 3 fiction books with five stars and of those the one I feel like I should write about here is the book Someone by Alice McDermott. This was my pick for one of my book clubs this past year. I don’t think everyone enjoyed it as much as I did, but that’s okay because I thought it was beautiful. It’s a simple book that just follows Marie, an Irish-American living in Brooklyn, throughout her life. The story itself isn’t particularly compelling. There’s not much of a plot to speak of, but McDermott has such a way with words that reading the way she describes things is a great treat. There were so many wonderful little morsels in this book that I loved, so it’s the book I’m going to go with in this category.
Looking back at the non-fiction books I read over the past year listed in Goodreads there was only one that I gave five stars to, and it’s actually not the one I want to write about in this category. For the record that book was You Are the Music: How Music Reveals What It Means to Be Human by Victoria Williamson. I still think that was a great book, and as someone who loves music it really resonated with me. However the one book both fiction and non-fiction that has really stuck with me from this year is The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs. For some reason I only gave it 4 stars when I rated it, but it’s the one book I really haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it. It’s the true story of a brilliant boy who grew up in a horrible neighborhood in Newark. He was surrounded by violence and drugs, his father was in prison for murder, and yet he managed to make it out for awhile. He attended Yale and had a bright future ahead of him before he wound up pulled back into his old life in Newark. The book is written by his friend and former roommate at Yale, who unapologetically recounts Robert Peace’s life and examines the reasons that his life was cut short and why it isn’t as simple to walk away from what you know for a supposedly better life.
There is a lot of good television these days. Between what I watch on network television, cable tv, pay cable like HBO and Showtime, and then what Amazon and Netflix are now putting out I can barely keep up with what I’ve chosen to watch and I still feel like there is a ton that I’m missing. There is just no way to keep up with all of the excellent television shows that are being made these days. However, the television show that I’m most interested in right now is probably not one that is making any television critic’s best of list. Over the summer my friend Sarah convinced me that we should both start watching Arrow. It was something that I had heard good things about and did have interest in watching at some point, so it didn’t take much arm twisting. She never wound up watching it all, which I say is her loss because I plowed through the first two seasons and was anxiously awaiting the third when it started this fall. I don’t think the third season has actually been as good, but I’m still enjoying it and it’s probably currently the television show I most look forward to getting to watch every week. There’s probably a bit of a recency bias with this choice as well, but I only get to pick one show so this is the one I’m going with.
Luckily for me I also given myself the TV episode category, so I can talk about more than one tv show. Parenthood is now in it’s final season and we’re getting ready to hit the last four episodes. This show has been wildly uneven over it’s six years, but when it is firing on all cylinders it will gut you. That is why this show is the perfect fit for this category. Many storylines the show chooses concentrate on just don’t work and when you hit episodes that strongly focus on those plots it’s not great, though the love of the characters often pulls it through in those cases. However, when this show focuses on the smaller, more realistic moments it is amazing. Season 5, Episode 19 “Fraud Alert” was one of those episodes that just about killed me. It was especially heart wrenching with two stories going with the younger kids. It was the episode where kids peed in Max’s canteen on a field trip and Sydney and Victor are having a really hard time with their Julia and Joel splitting up. Both Max and Victor have very understandable breakdowns during this episode and they broke my heart. It was so good. I am really going to miss this show when it is gone. I will be sad to no longer be sharing life with the Braverman family when it ends.
As I have already mentioned there wasn’t really a whole lot that stood out to me in music this year. Honestly if I could I would like to write about Jason Isbell’s Southeastern again as that album from last year still resonates with me more than any new album I’ve listened to this year. Looking through the albums I bought this past year I want to give special mention to Nickel Creek’s A Dotted Line because I do love them, I do like this album, and I love that they got back together to put this out for the 25th anniversary of them playing together. I also thought about Jessie Ware’s Tough Love because I listened it on repeat a ton of times. However, ultimately decided to go with Ryan Adams’ self titled album. I have probably listened to it more times than any other album I bought this year, and it was one of those albums where when I was listening to it I would think this is my favorite song on this album, then the next one would come on and I would think no this is actually my favorite song from this album all the way through. This album came out three years after his last release, which is unprecedented for him. He usually turns out material crazy fast, which can sometimes show. In this case the extra time was well worth it and resulted in a fantastic album.
In some ways I want to spread the love around a little and pick a song by a different artist, but if I’m being honest with myself here I really have to go with Ryan Adams again and the song “Gimme Something Good”, which I obviously listened to a lot on the album, but was also very happy to hear every time it came on the radio and of course was very happy to hear him play live at the Newport Folk Festival this past summer.
You would think having given Ryan Adams both the song and album categories that he would be the only choice for artist, but you would be wrong. Thanks to the way I put this together I can actually pick a musical group that actually didn’t put anything out in 2014, but 2014 is the year I became aware of their existence so I get to write about them now. That honor goes to The Oh Hellos. They were one of the first artists that The Newport Folk Festival announced for their 2014 lineup. I immediately fell in love with their music. It is so joyful it makes my heart swell with happiness every time I listen to it. They have a short 4 song Christmas album that I listened to on repeat at work one day during December, and it made me so happy.
Even better than just the music itself is their stage presence. They are a large band. I think there’s something like 12 of them and they just get up there and play their hearts out. I got to see them twice this year, once at Newport and then opening for needtobreathe at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Both times the audience was composed largely of people who had never heard of them before and both times I got to watch as they completely bowled everyone there over and made them instant fans. It’s been a few years since they’ve put out any new music and I hope that 2015 will provide some.
Obviously The Oh Hellos are at the top of my list as far as the best concerts I saw this year. I also have a special love for Jason Isbell concert at the 9:30 Club this past January with Holly Williams opening for him. They put out two of my favorite albums from 2013, so getting to see them play together at the beginning of 2014 was a real treat. Holly Williams playing “Waiting on June” was the first time I have ever been at a concert where everyone around me was in tears, which was a very special moment. My biggest regret of 2015 so far is that I won’t be seeing Jason Isbell when he comes back to DC to play the Lincoln Theatre in a few weeks. I don’t know anyone who wanted to go with me, so I didn’t buy tickets but then once they sold out I really regretted not getting any.
The concert I’m actually going with here though is Mavis Staples at 2014’s Newport Folk Festival. This year’s festival was a celebration of her 75th birthday. She was obviously the closing headliner, but she also popped up throughout the weekend to sing songs with during other artist’s sets. It was so awesome to hear her singing with so many other great musicians. Her set was amazing. It was so great to be able to see a musical legend like Mavis Staples sing live and because of the venue to be able to have so many other artists I love join her on stage to sing with and celebrate her.
Broadway Theatre Production
Of the four Broadway shows I saw this year it’s really hard to choose which one I should write about here. I loved seeing Sutton Foster live again in the beautiful show Violet. Seeing Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch was an amazing experience. Aladdin was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Ultimately though I’m going with Cabaret starring Emma Stone and Alan Cumming. I have always loved Cabaret. I love the show itself and the music. Finally getting to see Alan Cumming as the Emcee after all these years was fantastic, and I really thought Emma Stone was great as Sally Bowles. I’m very happy I got to see her in her Broadway debut.
Baltimore Theatre Production
This year I’m going to go with one of the touring Broadway shows at the Hippodrome for my choice of most memorable Baltimore Theatre Production. I’m picking Sister Act because I really enjoyed the show a lot, but more so because it surpassed my expectations exponentially. I was not really looking forward to the show very much and figured it was going to be yet another awful musical stage adaptation of a movie. I was kind of blown away by how much I liked it. It was a lot of fun, and was probably my favorite show of our season last year. I definitely wasn’t expecting that at all.
I often wind up picking one of the Nerdist podcast episodes for this category because of the podcasts I listen to it is the only one that features guests in almost every episode making it very easy to remember them. The other podcasts I listen to are just the hosts talking about things, so it is often hard for me to distinguish one episode from another at the end of the year. This year though I specifically remember the Extra Hot Great episode that Alan Sepinwall guest hosted on. With Joe Reid leaving as one of the regular podcast hosts at the end of 2013, they decided to continue with 4 hosts every week but with the fourth chair being filled by a guest host every week. Alan Sepinwall is my favorite television writer. We agree on a lot of, though not all, television shows. If I’m watching a new show you can usually bet it’s because Alan told me to. If I’m wondering if I should try out a new show that’s coming on he is the first person I turn to in order to find out. Thus I was very excited to see that he was going to be appearing on one of my favorite podcasts. As expected his episode was a lot of fun. In one of their segments they talked about The Knick, which I never watched, but was amused by Alan’s constant rubbing in that he had received more screeners than Tara, Sarah, and Dave had. The Game Time was one of the television theme song ones, and I remember laughing out loud at the gym while listening to them have so much fun playing it. It was an excellently fun episode. I demand more episodes with Alan Sepinwall!