Good Things Roundup

It seems like it’s pretty hard to come by good things these days, so I want to make sure I’m documenting them when they do happen. There were a number of things that made me happy over the past week or so, so I thought I would write up a quick post about them.

  1. We have now entered one of my favorite times of year when all the noisy bugs of summer are out in full force in the morning and the evening. Cicadas, crickets, katydids are all out there humming away now and I love it.
  2. I got a couple of surprises from friends that made me feel loved and it reminded me that I have some really great friends even if I don’t really get to see them much in person these days. Some friends went out to a farm and cut a bunch of sunflowers and dropped one off to me as a nice little surprise. That happened on a day when I was feeling really down on life and people, so it was perfect timing and very sweet.
  3. The other day I was watching TV and a character eating popcorn for some reason really made me crave the caramel/cheddar popcorn mix from Garrett’s Popcorn in Chicago. I looked into how much it would cost to have some shipped to me and decided I didn’t want popcorn that much. I did find two different brands of cheddar/caramel mix popcorns at the grocery store that I decided to do a taste test of. The Cretors came closer to the Garrett’s, but still wasn’t as good. The Smartfood I didn’t care much for. I posted about all this on Facebook, and then a couple days ago I opened up my door to a tin of popcorn from Garrett’s that one of my friends sent me after seeing my post. I have the best friends y’all.
  4. I got to actually see some friends in person this weekend. Some friends from DC drove up and we got carry out brunch and sat socially distanced in the grass behind my house. It’s a friend I’m used to getting together with fairly regularly, but who I hadn’t seen since we parted ways in the Tampa airport after going on what was in retrospect a very ill-advised trip to St. Pete Beach on the very week that the world decided that COVID-19 was a pandemic. Had our trip been one day later we would have canceled, but literally up until the point we were in the air flying to Florida the media was still downplaying how bad this was going to be. It was really good to be able to see each other again. I’m trying to be a little bit braver while also being completely responsible to see friends in person while the weather is still nice enough for us to sit outside because unless things change I don’t see myself spending time with people inside this winter. It’s going to be a long, lonely winter.
  5. Blacksauce biscuits are also making me very happy. Blacksauce is beloved staple at farmer’s markets and festivals in Baltimore serving up delicious biscuit sandwiches and more. I always got a Blacksauce biscuit for breakfast every Saturday morning pre-pandemic. For 3 months we did not eat any food that we did not cook in our own house. After the research kept reiterating that it was unlikely you would get it from eating carryout, we finally started getting carryout on my birthday. That opened the door for me to also finally start eating Blacksauce again. They are not at the farmer’s market right now. Instead they’re cooking out of a restaurant that closed last year and are doing scheduled pickups in their parking lot. The sandwiches rotate every weekend and some of my favorites only ever come around once or twice a year, so it’s been a nice stretch over the past three weeks with some of my very favorites: fried green tomatoes, roasted figs, and fried chicken with spicy honey. It’s summer so the roasted peaches have been in heavy rotation. I love that one too and will get it as soon as one of the rare ones that I love isn’t on the menu.
  6. Both universities that my library serves announced last week that they are going virtual for the fall semester. There was one day where it seemed like one would be virtual and one in person, which was going to make life very complicated. So I’m happy they got on the same page and that my co-workers who were going to have to go back to campus and interact with a bunch of students get a reprieve from that. I’m also grateful that I was and still am able to work from home through this.
  7. And that leads into my perpetual reminder to myself that as terrible as all of this is I have it really good. I am as I just said able to work from home. I still have a job. I enjoy spending time with my husband and my cat. We’re doing this in a time where it’s possible to still stay connected with people virtually instead of being completely cut off. And I’m not having to make any agonizing decisions about what to do with my kids this school year. I am extremely privileged in this situation, and I don’t want to lose sight of that either despite it still generally sucking.

Virtual Game Night

With our stay at home orders due to COVID-19 obviously social lives have been completely upended. Thank god this is happening in a time when we have plenty of options for staying connected even when we can’t see each other in person. In order to give myself some sort of social interaction with people I have been hosting a virtual game night every Saturday night via Google Hangouts. It’s worked out well. It’s kind of funny to me that I am now spending every Saturday night with a lot of friends who I usually only see a handful of times per year due to our normal busy lives. Now that we’re all stuck at home we have time to get together online every weekend.

So far we’ve played a different game every week. I’m sure we’ll cycle back through some of these eventually if this goes on long enough. But here’s a list of things we’ve played in case you’re trying to come up with ideas for your own game nights.

Trivial Pursuit

We did this with an actual Trivial Pursuit game board. We set it up so that my iPad camera pointed down at the board. Every team had a die they could roll for themselves in their houses. I just moved the game pieces around the board on everyone’s behalf and also read all the questions. I promise I didn’t cheat and read the answers when it was my team’s turn to play. The version I had on hand that we played was made in 1994 so the questions were really old at this point. After starting by playing by the actual rules we soon pivoted to the quick method of you get a pie piece every time you get a question correct if you don’t already have that color otherwise we would have been there all night.

Code Names

One of my friends knows some people who programmed their own online version of Code Names, which is what we used to play. I think you could very easily play this with the actual physical version of the game as well if you again had a camera pointing at the words and then texted photos of the key card to the two clue givers for each round.

Scattergories

This was a fairly easy one to play. I just took photos of all the category cards and sent them out ahead of time. Then during the game I controlled rolling the letter die and setting the timer. I talked to another friend who tried playing with friends who all had copies of the game, but they discovered that having bought them at different times sometimes the category cards were not exactly the same. So fair warning if you go that route. My sister also found some online generator that will provide you a random set of categories along with a letter that we used to play with my nieces.

Family Feud

We used this online version of Family Feud that I found to play. We divided everyone up into two teams and then made my husband the emcee since he doesn’t care that much about playing games. You could also switch the emcee every round if you don’t have someone who wants to do it for the entire time you’re playing.

Drawful 2

Drawful 2 is one of the Jackbox Games. They are a set of games you can buy online and then play with friends over the internet. I actually managed to snag this particular one for free. Only one person needs to own the game in order for up to 8 devices to also be logged into the game. To play via Google Hangouts or Zoom you just share your screen to the game. Everyone does need a second device to actually draw and answer the questions. In this particular game everyone gets their own weird clue that they have to draw. Then everyone is shown the same drawing one by one and they have to provide a title for what they think the drawing is of. Then you get a list of all the titles people came up with plus the real title and people have to choose which one they think is the actual title. You get points for every time someone selects one of the titles you created instead of the actual title and if it’s your drawing you get points for every person that selects the actual title rather than one of the made up ones.

Other Future Options

We haven’t played any of these games yet, but they are possibly on tap for future virtual game night.

Additional Jackbox games

Someone else offered to buy some of the additional Jackbox games, so I think we’re going to do another one of those this coming weekend. There are a number of those we could cycle through if we want to pay for them.

The Game of Things

I think this game should also translate fairly easily to an online interface with answers being texted or emailed to the reader rather than submitted on a piece of paper.

Five Second Rule

This is a game I’ve never played in real life before, but I saw it when I was buying myself The Game of Things and thought it sounded like it would also be able to be easily played online with only one person owning the game. I bought a copy so we can try and attempt it. We’ll see how it goes.

Heads Up

Again I think this should work out okay as long as people can have a camera pointing at the phone on their heads so people can read the clues that they need to be getting the person that is it to guess. Thus I think this will probably be a better game to try when we have a night where it’s only couples and no single players so that one of them can train a camera on the other. The the single person could obviously set up something stationary as well.

Pictionary

I think if we ever do actual Pictionary we will need to do a modified version of it because I don’t think the all draw plays will translate well to an online format. It would be hard to see both people drawing at the same time and the potential internet lag time might disadvantage one team over the other. Otherwise I think it should work to have a phone or tablet camera propped up so that it’s pointing down on the piece of paper someone is drawing on.

Charades

I’ve been a little reluctant to try this one since I’m not sure how clear it will be to see what people are doing, but it might be worth trying at some point. I’ve seen some online charades clue generators that people could use to get their clues.

I will also say that depending on your set up for playing it may or may not be helpful to have a couple of options in your back pocket and to test things out ahead of time if possible. For instance the first night we tried to play Drawful 2 we ran into some technical issues that I hadn’t foreseen because it was difficult to test the game fully on my own. Luckily I anticipated there might be problems and already had Family Feud in my back pocket, which we were quickly able to pivot to. Also at least the way I’m running my game night is that whoever expressed interest in joining has been getting the weekly invite. Not everyone shows up every week so there may be instances where we need to switch things up depending on who comes on a particular night. For instance the Jackbox games can only have 8 logins at a time. Sometimes we’ve had more people than that. The virtual game night has definitely been a great way for me to keep some semblance of a social life though and gives a little bit of structure to what we’re doing online rather than just awkwardly staring at each other through little online boxes.

St. Pete Beach Trip

It feels really weird to be writing this post now in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis with everyone essentially in lockdown. My friend and I had planned a trip to St. Pete Beach for a few days of rest and relaxation and to use up some of the copious amounts of vacation time we both get. As the date of our departure grew nearer the news of the coronavirus was getting a little bit more crazy but hadn’t really reached a tipping point yet. We decided to move forward with our trip, which is something that in retrospect was probably a little foolhardy and if we had literally left even half a day later I don’t think we would have gone as things really seemed to start to get crazy literally while we were in the air. By the time I had landed the university I work for had moved to all online classes and told the students they had to leave campus by the end of the week. But once we were down there aside from moving our plane tickets up two days to immediately fly home there wasn’t much we could do.

It was nice to sit on the beach and relax with a book in the sun, but for the most part it was a rather stressful vacation worrying about contracting something from someone out in public. The beach we were at while somewhat busy was nothing like the images you’ve been seeing of spring breakers in Miami and Clearwater Beach. We were able to socially distance ourselves from anyone while sitting on the beach, though we probably came too close to a lot of people during our daily beach walk. We also ate dinner out every night which put us in close proximity to others. I was super paranoid about hand washing though and immediately went to wash my hands as soon as I had handed back my menu.

We rented a two bedroom/two bathroom condo in a little development called The Waves. There were definitely some college spring breakers around on the beach, but I don’t think any of them were in our development which seemed to be mostly older people and families with small children. It was pretty quiet aside from hearing the people in the condo above us walking around from time to time. I would stay there again if I chose to return to St. Pete Beach.

On the day we got there we couldn’t check into the Airbnb until 4 and we arrived around noon, so we grabbed some lunch in St. Petersburg and then went to the Dali museum. There was an article in the Washington Post about St. Petersburg a few weeks before we went our trip and it had mentioned a Mexican/Thai fusion restaurant called Nitallys that we decided to check out. It was delicious and definitely the best food we had of the whole vacation. The Salvador Dali museum was a little odd because the St. Petersburg Grand Prix was scheduled for that weekend and the track completely surrounded the museum. We had to park a couple miles away and then take a shuttle bus to the museum. Of course by the next day they had announced that the race would go on but with no spectators.

The rest of the food we ate in St. Pete Beach was mediocre at best. Lots of frozen and reheated or canned food. The two nights I ate mahi mahi it was at least supposedly fresh, but both nights it was overcooked. Oh well. I went down there for the beach not the food.

Now I’m home and counting down the days until I can feel safe that I didn’t actually contract COVID-19 while on this vacation. Today is day 5. We still have a long way to go before I can feel completely secure that I’m okay, but I’m trying not to stress about it too much. I can’t change what I did. I can only do what I’m doing now which is to stay inside my house completely aside from daily lunch time walks in which I zig and zag from the sidewalk on one side of the street to the sidewalk on the other to avoid coming into any contact with other people out and about.

Thing 2: Luann Carra Gallery

Don’t worry I didn’t forget about my goal of doing 20 things in and around Baltimore in 2020. I thought maybe it would get me out of my February hibernation mode for a change, but it didn’t. February is still dark with gross weather and I was sick for part of it, so I didn’t wind up doing anything new and different in February. I did actually eat at a new restaurant in my neighborhood, but since part of the reason I’m doing this is to get me out of Hampden on occasion I’m not counting it. I do have several things lined up in March though, so I’m getting back into things now that spring is coming.

Last Thursday I went to the Luann Carra Gallery in Fells Point to see my friend’s first solo photography show. I’ve never been to any art galleries in Baltimore. It was fun to go out and support my friend and see all her lovely photographs.

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Nashville Part 2: The Music

Yesterday I wrote about my recent trip to Nashville. Today I’m going to talk about the music. The trip happened because we wanted to see Brandi Carlile perform at The Ryman. I knocked the Ryman off my concert venue bucket list back in 2017, but it’s a fantastic venue and I of course wanted to see my favorite artist play there. I mean realistically it’s a good thing I don’t live in Nashville or I’d probably have to get a second job to support all the shows I would go see at The Ryman. I commented that I’m glad that I’ve never wound up on their mailing list because of course I would just have constant fomo, but also it might be too dangerous as I would be too tempted to book a flight to Nashville to go see things.

Aside from the ridiculously drunk woman sitting next to my friend it was a fantastic show as expected. The woman was wasted from the second we sat down and would not stop touching and putting her arm around my friend. That’s totally my fault as I’m usually the one who attracts the worst people in every venue, and I think the ticket I had in my hand actually had her seat number on it (shh don’t tell). I think she handled it much better than I would have, so I thank her for her sacrifice.

Of the six shows Brandi Carlile is doing at the Ryman, I think we were at by far at the best one (even though as of my writing this one of them hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve never been a fan of Courtney Barnett who is the opener so there’s no way that one is better). At least it was definitely the one most made for me. When we bought the tickets we just chose by the date. There was no information at that point as to who the openers would be. The opener for our show wound up being Brandi’s fellow Highwoman, Natalie Hemby. Natalie had one album as a performer that didn’t really go anywhere, but she has been a prolific songwriter for many big country acts including Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, and Kacey Musgraves. She was drafted into writing some songs for The Highwomen and Brandi was like you’re not just writing for us you’re going to be part of the group. Now Natalie is working on her second album. I don’t expect stupid country radio to pay it any mind, but I for one am very excited about it and will definitely go see her when she presumably tours to support it.

Natalie Hemby was a pure delight as a performer. Even with a cold her music was great and her stage banter between songs was hilarious. She even brought her daughter out to sing Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow”, which she co-wrote, with her. You could tell her daughter was nervous at first, but by the end she was totally into it. Brandi ran out on stage and gave her a big hug at the end of the song. It was all very sweet. I cannot wait to have more Natalie Hemby in my life.

Brandi’s set was of course fantastic as always. Every time I see her I cannot wait to see her again. My friend and I were already lamenting that we didn’t have tickets to any of the remaining shows as soon as this one was over. It’s okay though because as I said I think we were at the one most tailor made for me. Since Natalie Hemby was the opener they did more Highwomen songs than they’ve done in the other sets with of course Natalie joining her. Sheryl Crow also joined them on “Redesigning Women”. Then Sheryl sang “Redemption Day” with Brandi filling in the Johnny Cash parts of the posthumous duet/cover of the song that was on Sheryl’s most recent album.

One of the things that I love about Brandi is her desire to promote other artists. In that vein at this show she also brought out The War and Treaty to cover Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” with her. She said she was about to experience a vocal body slam and she was not lying. The War and Treaty have some voices.

This set seems to have been the only one of two so far where she played “Mainstream Kid”, which is one of my favorite songs for her to play live even though it’s by far not one of my favorite songs to just listen to. It just has such great energy and she always gets super into it. It was another amazing Brandi Carlile show and I’m already counting down the days until I get to see her again.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Friday night we wound up at a venue called The Listening Room Cafe, which our RCA Studio B tour guide recommended if you were unable to get into the Bluebird Cafe, which we were sadly not. Like the Bluebird, The Listening Room is designed to showcase songwriters with the songwriters performing their songs in the round, i.e. they all take turns performing a song each then repeat through however many rounds they have time for during the set.

At the show we were at the performers were Jesse Lee, Zach Kale, and Joshua Patton. They were all three pretty good although I liked Zach and Jesse more than Joshua I liked  Jesse most of all. I really liked the songs she wrote and I loved her voice. I did a little more digging and it appears that she did put out an album back in 2009, which didn’t really go anywhere so I guess she must have decided to concentrate on songwriting. She said it’s taken her 14 years, but she’s finally had some success. She co-wrote Brett Young’s number 1 hit “Like I Loved You” and Kelsei Ballerini’s song “Peter Pan”. She sang another song that as far as I’ve been able to ascertain hasn’t been recorded by anyone, but I loved it and was mad when she said she had written it for a man to sing. I mean obviously if you actually want your songs to get played on country radio at this point you better write them for a man to sing, but man it really burns me that she’s writing it hoping some man will decide to sing it when I adored her singing it and wish she could actually get success singing it.

I also really appreciated that they talked about their careers as songwriters, what goes into it, and the challenges it entails. It’s a side of the music business I feel like you don’t get to hear that much about. They all had really good rapport together and would chime in to harmonize at points when each of them were singing. It was a really great set and I’m really happy our tour guide alerted us to this venue.

It as an excellent musical trip to Nashville. I’ll be back again at some point to try and get into the elusive Bluebird Cafe, which is becoming my white whale of concert venues. Plus I want to go to The Caverns for Bluegrass Underground, which is 90 minutes outside of Nashville. So there will be at least one more trip to Nashville in my future.

Nashville Part 1: The Trip

I spent the last few days with a friend in Nashville. I’m going to split the trip into two posts with this one general information about the trip and the second one about the music. That way this post doesn’t get super unwieldy and the 90% of you who read this blog who don’t care about the music can just skip that one like you do all my other music posts.

Years ago I bonded with a fellow librarian over our shared love of music on Twitter eventually meeting up with her at conferences and becoming real life friends. About 7 months ago I happened to text her about something on the same day that the fan club pre-sale tickets were going on sale for Brandi Carlile’s 6 night stint at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. She mentioned that she was thinking about going. I had jokingly mentioned it to my husband who I knew would never go for it earlier in the week. As expected his response was you’ve already been to the Ryman and you’ve seen Brandi a million times. We are not going to that. I told her that and she was like well you should just come with me. I said you’re right I should and within a few hours we made plans and had tickets through the pre-sale. Yay for spontaneity!

We rented an Airbnb in East Nashville. My husband and I had stayed in that neighborhood a few years ago and I thought it was a great location and recommended we stay there. It’s only about one and half to two miles to whatever you might want to do downtown. We’re both big walkers so we were happy to walk everywhere except maybe Saturday morning when it was raining, cold, and crazy windy. I think we kind of regretted making that walk instead of taking a Lyft. The neighborhood was already very much gentrifying when we were there last time and it has even more so in the last two and half years. We wound up grabbing lunch on Thursday at a food hall that wasn’t there the last time I was in Nashville.

Thursday night was the Brandi Carlile concert, which I will have much more to say about in my next post. We walked over to the Ryman and I was shocked at how empty Broadway where all the bars and honky tonks are was because it was insane last time we were there in April. I guess the cold of January means there are far fewer tourists. Last time I was there I told my husband this street is my nightmare and got off it as fast as possible. This time I was like I could probably deal with this if we decide to do something here. Even though I would have preferred warmer weather I definitely liked that the city was less crowded and had far fewer bachelorette parties this time around.

Friday I suggested we go on the RCA Studio B tour. It was the one thing I was interested in last time we were in Nashville that we didn’t do for some reason. You have to buy it bundled with entry to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I had done that last time I was in Nashville, but there were some new exhibits so it wasn’t all a repeat for me. RCA Studio B is a historic recording studio where lots of people recorded including The Everly Brothers and Elvis. RCA has much newer and larger studios across the street now, but some smaller artists still occasionally record in Studio B. Our tour guide was great and gave us the tip of where we wound up going to see music on Friday night.

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I was hoping that we would get to go to the Bluebird Cafe on Friday night, but even with both of us trying to get tickets we were unsuccessful. We floated the idea of trying to get some of the few walk-up tickets available for the early show, but from everything I had read online you needed to get there at least 2 hours early if you wanted any chance. It was way too cold to consider waiting outside for that long. Our tour guide told us if you can’t get into The Bluebird you should go to The Listening Room Cafe as they do something very similar. Those tickets also showed as sold out online, but since it was in walking distance we decided to walk over and see if there was any hope of getting in. We got there about 2 hours before the show and got on the waiting list. We hung out at the bar and got some food while we waited and then happily got in. More on the show in my next post.

The previous day our tour guide also told us that our Country Music Hall of Fame tickets got us into the Frist Art Museum for free, so we decided we would go check that out. It’s a good thing it was free since apparently they only have traveling exhibitions and no permanent collection and two of their exhibitions had just closed leaving only the Eric Carle exhibit up. I learned some interesting things about Eric Carle and his work, but it definitely wouldn’t have been worth paying for.

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After that we headed over to check out the main branch of the Nashville Public Library because we’re librarians and that’s what librarians do. I can’t think of any other profession where people go on vacation and make it a point to check out the work places of other people in their profession. I guess it counts if you work in a museum. It’s a really nice library although there’s some weird dead spaces that I’m wondering what they thought they were going to do with them when they built it because right now they’re doing nothing with them.

Although Broadway was busier on Saturday than it has been the previous two days it still wasn’t insane in the middle of the afternoon, so we decided to pop into Tootsie’s for a drink since it’s such a historic part of Nashville music history. There was a cover band playing in the room we wound up in that was mediocre. It was worth going for one drink, but after that one drink we decided to go grab some lunch elsewhere.

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Lunch was pretty much the end of my trip as I flew home on Saturday night. My friend stayed until Sunday afternoon and in retrospect I wish I had too. When I made my plans many months prior I didn’t realize it was MLK weekend, so I partly wanted to come home Saturday because if possible I like having a day to chill at home before heading back to work when I travel. I still could have had that coming home Sunday since I don’t have to work on MLK Day. Also, I assumed my friend would want to do the whole barhopping on Broadway thing like a lot of people do when they’re in Nashville and I knew that wasn’t going to be something I ever wanted to do, so I thought I can leave Friday evening and then she can do that Saturday night. Well you know what they say about assuming because it turns out she had zero interest in doing that either, but I didn’t know that until we were there. So as it turns out I should have stayed and gone with her to listen to some bluegrass on Saturday night, but what are you going to do?

It was a super fun trip and I’m so happy that we decided to jump on it. I’ll have more to say in a day or two about the shows and music venues we went to while in town.

Thing 1: Brunch at Rye Street Tavern

First in my 20 Things in 2020 was an easy one in that it was going to eat at a new restaurant. I had made plans back in December to get together with some friends for brunch this past weekend. We were trying to figure out somewhere to go, so I was looking at lists of brunch places in Baltimore and stumbled upon Rye Street Tavern. It worked well as a location for us since I was in the city, but everyone else was coming from elsewhere from DC up to Harford County. So Rye Street Tavern’s location right off I-95 made it an easy get to location for us all.

I don’t recall hearing about this restaurant opening although I’m sure it was in the local news when it did. It’s located in the new Port Covington development being spearheaded by the Under Armour folks for their new campus. Eventually it’s seemingly going to be a little city unto itself within Baltimore. Don’t even get me started on my feelings about this development and the tax credits it’s gotten. That’s not what we’re here for.

It wasn’t very busy when we there. At this point it’s a little off the beaten path unless you’re planning on going to the Sagamore Spirits Distillery, which is right next door. So I’m not surprised. It might be busier on weeknights when you have more traffic from the Baltimore Sun or Under Armour employees in the area.

The food was good. I appreciated that they had a nice mix of savory, sweet, breakfast, and more lunch type foods. I am an avowed hater of eggs when they are recognizable as eggs, which makes brunch a tricky meal for me at a lot of restaurants especially if it’s late enough in the day that I am not actually interested in whatever token pancake/waffle/French toast dish they have on their menu is.

We started with their cream donuts with chocolate whisky sauce. They were pretty good, but I’m not sure I would bother ordering them again. I had the pit beef sandwich, which was tasty though not what I would really call a true Baltimore pit beef sandwich. It came with a stupid amount of french fries, which were also pretty tasty. My friends had huevos rancheros, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken and everyone seemed to be pleased with their meal.

It’s definitely more expensive than some places, but I would say on par with or slightly cheaper than other popular Baltimore brunch places like Woodberry Kitchen or The Food Market. I would eat there again.

New York Theatre Trip: Little Shop and Hadestown

I went up to New York this past weekend to see a couple of shows. I usually go up in the fall and spring for a weekend to see a bunch of shows. I had been wanting to see Hadestown for awhile, but just couldn’t commit to when I wanted to go up and see it until Little Shop of Horrors spurred me on. As soon as I saw the announcement that Jonathan Groff and Christian Borle were going to star in an off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors I knew I had to see it. I love them both and thought they would be perfect in this show. Since it had a limited run I had to commit to a date. I usually try and do three shows on weekends I stay overnight, but when I bought these tickets there wasn’t anything else I had been dying to see except Oklahoma! which I had already made plans to go up and see with friends. In retrospect there were a couple of plays that weren’t open yet when I bought the other tickets that I would have liked to see, but I didn’t feel like paying to change my train ticket. Plus it was nice to get home earlier on Sunday rather than 9 pm.

If I wind up staying in a hotel that I have to pay for I usually cash in some of our credit card points. In the past I’ve stayed in the Doubletree in Times Square, which is nice because even though it’s in Times Square (ptooey!), it’s in the part that is closed to traffic so it’s quiet. For whatever reason that wasn’t one of my options this time. Based on looking at the reviews of the three hotels available in mid-Town, I went for the Hyatt Centric because it had the least complaints about noise. All three of them had complaints about a tacked on resort fee for each night, which is super annoying and something the Doubletree didn’t have. None of the hotels in question are resorts, so it is really obnoxious. The hotel points don’t cover the resort fee, so I had to pay out of pocket for that $35. They informed me when I checked in that the coffee, tea, and water bottles in my room were covered under the resort fee. Those were some great $17.50 bottles of water I drank.

Other than the dumb resort fee it was a fine place to stay, and I would stay there again. I had a weird deja vu moment when I got to the hotel though. I was like I have been in this place before, and it took me a minute to figure out why because I knew I had never stayed there before. I finally put two and two together and realized that when I met my friend from Minnesota in New York to see Hamilton it was the hotel she stayed at and I had met her in her room when I got to the city.

I didn’t have enough time to do much of anything before Little Shop after getting checked into the hotel, so I wandered through the street festival that was happening on 8th Avenue. I thought I might grab lunch there, but didn’t wind up super inspired by anything so I walked over towards the theatre to see what I could find near there. I wound up going back to Blossom du Jour, which is a little vegan restaurant on 9th Avenue. I had eaten there with friends before and liked it. It’s mostly take away with a little counter seating. Perfect for the quick lunch I was looking to grab.

Little Shop of Horrors was great. The fact that it was in a small 275 seat off-Broadway theatre was perfect for it. I don’t think it would have felt the same on a much larger Broadway stage. Jonathan Groff and Christian Borle were perfectly cast. I can’t think of a better actor to play Seymour than Jonathan Groff. Christian Borle was the dentist plus a dozen other bit parts. Tammy Blanchard was Audrey and was the weakest part of the show. She was a fine actress, but not the greatest of singers, which was very apparent during her big solo song, “Somewhere That’s Green”. Of course it didn’t help that it’s one of the quietest parts of the show and someone’s stupid cell phone went off. Turn off your phones people! It was a delightful show, and I’m really glad I got the chance to see it.

I met a friend that lives in New York for dinner at the newest location of Ainsworth Social, which took over the space where Southern Provisions used to be. Justin Timberlake, great singer, but apparently not so great at owning a bbq restaurant. It was eh. I’m not likely to be back. It was great to catch up with my friend though.

After dinner it was on to Hadestown. I felt about Hadestown a little bit like I felt about Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. I still literally have no idea what that show was about. Turns out turning 70 pages of War and Peace into a sung through musical does not make for the most coherent of narratives. I didn’t mind that it made no sense though because I enjoyed the experience of the show so much. I didn’t have a problem following the plot of Hadestown, I just thought it was BORING and there wasn’t much there, there. Ultimately I didn’t care for the most part though because I love the music in that show so much and it’s a fun show to watch. I have heard some people say that it has a “One Song Glory” problem though, and it does. If you don’t know what I’m referring to that’s the great song that one of the characters in Rent is supposed to be writing during the show, and then of course it can’t possibly live up to how great it’s supposed to be. I think Hadestown has an even worse problem. Unlike apparently some people I don’t hate “One Song Glory”. Is it anywhere close to the best song in Rent? No. But is it anywhere close to the worst song in Rent? Also no. In this case though the fantastic, amazing song that Orpheus is supposedly writing to get Hades to let Persephone go so that spring and fall can return and save the world is not only not the amazing song it’s supposed to be it is decidedly the worst song in Hadestown. He sings little bits of it throughout the show as he’s supposedly writing it and I groaned internally every single time. I still really enjoyed the show and am glad I saw it, but I maybe didn’t like it quite as much as I was hoping going in. “Wait for Me” is definitely being added to my theoretical list of wonderful Broadway songs though because unlike Epic I, II, and III it actually is an amazing song.

My train home on Sunday was at 11 am, so I didn’t really have time to do much before I left the city. I did however have time to go down to Fabrique Bakery on 14th Street to get a cardamom bun for breakfast. There as an article about them in the New York Times awhile back, and I became obsessed with trying one. Anyone who really knows me knows that I am an avowed hater of cinnamon. Cardamom is one of my favorite flavors though, so I really wanted to try this pastry that was flavored with cardamom instead of cinnamon. Everyone should make cardamom rolls instead of cinnamon rolls. It was well worth the trek down in the rain to try.

Since I didn’t get my normal NYC bagel for breakfast I decided to grab one from Zaro in Penn Station to eat on the train for lunch along with my normal black and white cookie. I can now add a new screwed up bagel order to my list of things that have gone wrong with bagels I’ve ordered in NYC. I should really start checking them carefully before I leave. I have a standard bagel order in NYC, whole wheat bagel with strawberry cream cheese. The worst was the time they accidentally gave me lox cream cheese instead of strawberry. Imagine expecting to bite into something sweet and then it’s smoked fish. I’ve also been given an everything bagel with strawberry cream cheese on it instead of my whole wheat. That is not a combination I recommend. This time I got two different bagel halves. They slice them in half to go in the toaster and someone obviously grabbed half of someone else’s bagel and put it together with mine because I had two top halves and no bottoms. One half was the whole wheat that I ordered. The other half turned out to be cinnamon raisin. Seeing as I just told you how much I dislike cinnamon you can bet how I felt about that. Not to mention that if you’ve been around here for any amount of time you also know that I hate raisins. So not the best bagel experience ever. I’ll be back in the city in about a week and half to see Oklahoma! so maybe I’ll try again.

 

Celebrating Friends

This past weekend I had the opportunity to celebrate some dear friends in joyous events. They are both genuinely two of the kindest people I know. While I am someone with some degree of social anxiety, who is terrible at small talk and feels like I never know what to say to anyone I’m not close friends with and thus whose first instinct is to run in the other direction when faced with talking with someone I don’t know or don’t know that well, they both seek to make sure everyone feels comfortable and included. They are both generous and welcoming in spirit in a way that I envy and it showed in the people they had surrounding them this weekend.

Friday night I attended my friends Lindsey and Andrew’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony performed by one of our other friends who did a wonderful job. I’m pretty sure it was the best food I’ve ever had at a wedding. I’m still dreaming about the little cheesy toast appetizer things. It was also super fun to dance the night away. I adore wedding dancing. I don’t have much opportunity to dance in my life, and I always find dancing with a bunch of friends to the kinds of music that gets played at weddings to be super fun. I even got my husband to dance with me for like half a song when they invited everyone to join them on the floor during the first dance. That was the first time he’s danced with me since our wedding over a decade ago, and I think that was the first time we danced ever. So I guess I can get him to dance again in another 10 years. I was a little worried that with all the stuff wrong with my right foot right now I wasn’t going to be able to dance that much without being in super pain, but my foot didn’t really bother me much at all on Friday night, though I did regret it a little Saturday. I’m past the point in my life where I get invited to a lot of weddings, so it was really fun to get to do some wedding dancing for the first time in awhile.

Friday night was also my friend Emily’s 30th birthday, but as we were all at the wedding she had her birthday party on Saturday night. We ate some delicious bbq all the way from her home state of North Carolina. This was a lot more of me being awkward and not knowing what to say to all the people I didn’t know or don’t know all that well until the party thinned out at the end of the night, but I had a good time anyway and was very happy to celebrate the birth of a wonderful person and friend.

It’s always nice to have times where you can take a step back and think about how lucky you are to have the people you have in your life. This weekend was one of those times.

Be More Chill

This past weekend I went up to New York with a couple of my friends in what has unintentionally apparently become our annual March Broadway trip since this is our third year running. I went into the show fairly cold. I had a general idea of what the story was about, but I hadn’t heard any of the music yet. I knew the backstory behind its run in New Jersey several years ago followed by a cult online following of the album recorded for that production that then propelled the show to off-Broadway and now onto Broadway. It just opened on Broadway this week, so it’s been pretty easy to avoid unless I guess you’re a theatre obsessed teenager on Tumblr or wherever the teenage fandom hangs out online these days. Most people I know have never even heard of this show before.

In my mind the show is a cross between the tv show Chuck (guy gets computer implanted in his head that makes him cooler, but then it causes mental problems), the movie Can’t Buy Me Love (teenage dork does something to try and make himself popular, but winds up blowing off his good old friend in the process), and the movie Labyrinth (because the representation of the super computer in the boy’s head reminded me of David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth even though it was supposed to evoke Keanu Reeves’ character in The Matrix). In non-pop culture references the show is about a nerdy teenage boy who wants to be more popular and finds out about some super secret super computers “from Japan” the size of a pill called squips that you can drink and they will implant in your brain and tell you what you should do to “be more chill”. Then of course all the lessons about learning how to like and be liked for yourself that teenage stuff like this likes to teach you.

I waited to read the New York Times review of the show until we were driving home last night because I didn’t want their critic’s view of the show coloring mine. I’m glad I did because his basic assessment of the show was teenagers get off my lawn. I guess he felt like he just couldn’t completely outright pan the show because it already has such a large following and it broke the Lyceum Theatre’s box office record for weekly ticket sales. So instead he basically just said it’s a terrible show by theat-ah standards, but I guess it’s okay for you teenagers. No one over 21 should bother.

Well, I’m 40 and I thoroughly enjoyed the show as did the other three over 40 adults and yes two 13 year-olds I was with. The other adults sitting around me all seemed to really like it too. I heard multiple people around me during intermission talking about how much they were enjoying it. So sorry it wasn’t up to your exacting standards Mr. NYT Critic. Sometimes you just want to go to the theatre to have fun. Is it the best show I’ve ever seen? No, but was I thoroughly entertained for 2 and half hours? Yes, I was. Plus I’ve had the song “Michael in the Bathroom” stuck in my head since the show. Also that song leads to perhaps one of my favorite theatre callbacks ever which I won’t spoil here. That’s pretty much all I’m asking for in Broadway show, and Be More Chill delivers it.

I will agree with him on one thing though. The show is needlessly loud. They definitely can and should take the sound down a notch or two. There’s no need anyone needs to risk hearing damage at a Broadway show. Yes, the music is more rock based, but that doesn’t mean the show needs to be rock concert loud. Concerts themselves are out of control with the sound levels, but at least there they can make the excuse that they have to overpower the ambient noise of the crowd and the bar, which is not an issue in Broadway theaters.

Is this a show I’m going to recommend to my 70 year old mother? Probably not, but if you still have a soft spot for teenage related pop culture like I do then this show is well worth your time. And obviously if you have some teenage theatre lovers in your life then apparently this show was made for them.

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