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.

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.

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.

 

Los Angeles Trip

As I mentioned in my previous post we came out to Los Angeles to go to a concert at The Greek Theatre. We of course did other things while we were in town for a few days. Since in addition to the Greek Theatre I also I wanted to go to the Griffith Observatory, both of which are in Griffith Park, I was looking for places to stay nearby. I found this Italian Villa right outside the park, but my husband wouldn’t let us stay there. I mean it did cost twice as much as where we stayed, but at only $400 per night it wasn’t completely out of our price range. He’s too practical for that, so we wound up at The Hollywood Orchid Suites instead.

The Hollywood Orchid Suites are located on a little dead end street that is right off Hollywood and Highland. The entrance to the hotel is right across the street from the loading dock for the giant Loew’s hotel and the Hollywood and Highland shopping center, so you definitely don’t have a view and you could hear banging and trucks backing up all the time when sitting out on the balcony, but I never heard anything inside of our room at least where we were. I gather based on the reviews that some of the rooms closer to the front than ours might have some sound issues. The hotel is actually a converted apartment building, so all the rooms are huge with a completely full kitchen and dining area plus the bedroom and bathroom. If you were going to be in LA for any amount of time it would be a nice place to stay so you could cook. We were only there for a few days so we didn’t use the kitchen. We also had a nice little balcony. There wasn’t really a view of anything, but it was nice to be able to sit outside and our side of the building didn’t get the sun until around 5 pm, so it was nice and shady. There was also a little roof garden. A lot of the reviews say it’s clean but sort of outdated and rundown, but they are in the process of updating all of the rooms. We wound up in one that had already been redone, so it was nice. Nothing amazing, but good enough for us. I expect they’ll be done with the rest by the end of the year.

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Part of the reason we didn’t use the kitchen was that there was a free breakfast. It wasn’t anything fancy. But as someone who never eats the eggs and bacon parts of hotel breakfast I was perfectly content with what was there. All of the reviews of this place mention how awesome the woman who runs the breakfast area is. They were not lying. She was the best part of the whole place. She is super friendly and really takes pride in her job helping everyone get their breakfasts and chatting with everyone. She gave us a big hug when we were checking out. I don’t think we’ll be back to LA, but if we ever were I would definitely stay there again assuming I couldn’t somehow convince my husband to stay in the Italian Villa.

Thursday during the day we went out to The Getty Center, which is an art museum created by J. Paul Getty. It’s set up in the hills and you can get some excellent views of the city. We managed to spend 2 hours there before we even looked at any of the art. I wanted to go on the architecture tour, but we had just missed one when we got there and had about 45 minutes before the next one. I decided we should just wander around the gardens until the next one. We went on the tour, which was really interesting. After that we grabbed some lunch in the cafeteria before finally checking out the art which includes paintings, decorative arts, photography, sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts. It was a nice little art museum. It’s technically free to get into the museum, but it does cost $20 to park. I appreciated that they said that they give all the kids that come to the museum on field trips a free parking pass so they can bring their families back and have it be a truly free experience.

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Thursday night was of course the Maggie Rogers concert at The Greek. Friday we headed out to Venice Beach. We started off at the end of the Venice Beach boardwalk and walked down to the Santa Monica Pier and back. On the way I said if the iconic ferris wheel costs $10 or less to ride I think I want to go on it. If it’s more than that I’m not interested. It cost $10, so we rode the ferris wheel. Then I dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean and we walked back.

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We grabbed some tacos in Venice Beach for lunch. I feel like food is the one part we really failed at on this trip. Those tacos were probably the best thing we ate. Since we were staying in the super touristy part of the city everything right by us was chains and we often didn’t have time to drive somewhere else for dinner in conjunction with our plans. We wound up eating California Pizza Kitchen for dinner before the concert. Though we joked that since it has California in the name it must be a local chain. After the taco lunch I wasn’t that hungry before we needed to leave to go to the Griffith Observatory, so we wound up eating gelato for dinner.

My big plan for Friday night was to go up to Griffith Observatory right before sunset, watch the sunset, and then get in line to view the telescope. My plan mostly failed thanks to their stupid parking. I had looked into this and basically determined it was going to be impossible to park at the observatory, but on nights where there isn’t a concert at The Greek you can park in those lots and walk up or take a shuttle. Then when we got into the park the signs showed there was still limited parking at observatory and the lots for the Greek were closed. So we drove up, but there were a million cars in front of us and once you’re that far there is no way to turn around. You have to drive through the entire park loop and back out again. There was no parking along the road and they wouldn’t even let you up to actual observatory parking lot. By the time we looped back around we could finally park in one of the Greek lots, but I don’t know why they don’t just have them open and let you park in any of them whenever instead of keeping them gated off until they decide you should park there. That added about 30 minutes to our transit time, so by the time got up there we only got the last glimmers of sunset and the line for the telescope was way too long to wait in. We probably wouldn’t have gotten to the front before they shut it down for the night. So we just enjoyed some nice views of the city at night and then walked back down to our car. I think it was still worth it, but also I’m annoyed that their dumb parking situation ruined my perfect plan. I don’t know how you would ever go up there on a night that there’s a show at The Greek Theatre. I don’t recommend trying it.

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I didn’t have anything on our agenda for Saturday morning since our plane didn’t leave until the afternoon. I wanted to get a little bit of exercise in, so we wound up walking along Hollywood Boulevard and looking at all the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I had no idea that some people have more than one star for different areas of entertainment. I learned that Gene Autry is the only one who has 5 stars, one for each of the categories represented.

We also stopped and grabbed snacks for the plane at the Laurel Canyon Country Store. I of course being a big fan of music am interested in the musical history of that area. There’s not really anything to do in Laurel Canyon as such. It’s just a residential area and my husband was uninterested in just driving through the canyon, which I understand given all the other driving and all the traffic we sat in. Right at the entrance to the canyon though is a little convenience store/deli that you could apparently run into lots of the famous people who live(d) in Laurel Canyon. We didn’t bump into any 60s rock icons, but at least I can say I did something related to Laurel Canyon. And that was pretty much the end of our little trip.

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This is my third time in LA, and I don’t ever feel compelled to come back here. I don’t find it a particularly compelling city to be in. Unless you’re up in the hills and looking at the views, it’s not a particularly pretty city. And if you’re in the hills then there’s all the worry that your house might disappear thanks to earthquakes, wild fires, and mud slides. It’s all sprawl and traffic. I feel like we drove through a lot of areas of the city since everywhere we went Google Maps was like there’s an accident on the 405 or 101 or both so let’s go not on the highway. I wouldn’t care to live in any of them. And the traffic as advertised is terrible. It took us almost an hour to go the 4 miles between our hotel and the Greek Theatre on Thursday night and it wasn’t because of traffic going to the concert. I also am confused as to where people park all these cars they’re driving around all the time because driving by there didn’t ever seem to be any parking for any of the businesses that lined all the streets. Doesn’t matter I guess because I will never need to know. As far as I’m concerned aside from the weather LA doesn’t have much to recommend it. I know some people love it. They can have it. I’ll keep Baltimore.

Maggie Rogers at The Greek Theatre

As I have written about here before I have a concert venue bucket list. My husband likes to gift me travel for birthdays and Christmas and now that I’ve been done with my 50 states for a number of years now he’s moved on to buying me tickets for shows at the venues I want to go to. We went to Nashville a couple of years ago and knocked a few off of the list.

This year for my birthday he got me tickets to go see Maggie Rogers at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. I am amused that the gift managed to be both an early birthday present and a belated birthday present because the tickets went on a sale a few weeks before my birthday so he told me about it to make sure it would work with my schedule before he bought tickets (or really handed me a credit card and told me to buy the tickets so I could pick out my seats). Then since the show wasn’t until 3 months after my birthday it was also a belated birthday present.

The Greek Theatre was on my bucket list because it’s a historic outdoor venue located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that opened back in 1930. The land for the park was donated to the city by wealthy land owner Griffith J. Griffith (yes that’s really his name and not a nickname). He also donated money to have The Greek Theatre and the Griffith Observatory built, a fact I did not learn until after we went the Observatory. The venue is built into the side of a canyon in the park so the acoustics are great and you’re surrounded by trees. Although sitting in the venue you can’t actually see much of the nature that surrounds you. The seats slope down a hill to the stage with the Greek facade behind it, which is where the name comes from. You can’t see over the facade to anything outside and you’re basically just looking into the side of a hill with a few trees that you can see around the side of the seats if you turn around. I’ve been to prettier venues, but it was a great place to see a show.

Unlike a lot of outdoor venues where you have pavilion seats and a lawn that sort of separates the audience, this is just one large theatre of seats sloping down a hills, so you get the full vibe of the audience together, which was great for a show like Maggie Rogers who definitely had people on their feet bopping along with her. It also only seats just under 6,000 people, so it’s a fairly intimate venue.

As per usual I managed to wind up by the most obnoxious people. I have no idea what happened to all the people sitting in the row in front of us. It was a sold out show, so I would have expected every seat to be full. The half of the row in front of us was never full. There were some people there for the opening band Now, Now that disappeared, which I thought odd. I mean liked Now, Now, but why wouldn’t you stay for Maggie Rogers too even if you came for Now, Now. There was no one in the two seats in front of us for the opening act. Two girls eventually showed up soon after Maggie started, but then they only stayed for about 4 songs and left. I have no idea what their deal was given there is nowhere in this venue to really go and hang out other than your seats. The real problem was the two other girls in the row who got super drunk and were way obnoxious as a result. Since all the other people in the row disappeared they basically moved in front of us and were super distracting. They were paying no attention to the show and drunkenly hanging all over each other such that they were blocking my view because there was no way to see between them and I couldn’t see around them without getting the space of the person sitting next to me. I was happy they miraculously somehow chilled out and just stood there for “Back in My Body”, which is probably my favorite Maggie Rogers’ song unless “Light On” is, and they left right before she ended her set with that, so at least they didn’t ruin my two favorite songs.

Maggie was great as always. She is such a good performer and is super energetic and dancing around the stage. She reminds me of Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine in that way. She pretty much played every single song she’s ever released at this point. I kind of like going to concerts when artists only have so many songs to play so you’re guaranteed to hear your favorites. It’s always a bummer when artists get a few albums under their belts and that one song you love is something they for whatever reason never add to their live rotation.

I appreciate that three years into the crazy whirlwind that her career has been that she still seems completely overwhelmed and thankful about everything she is experiencing. I’m pretty sure she was crying when she came back out for her encore. For the encore she came out without her band and sang “Alaska” with just an acoustic guitar. It’s like going back to the beginning since that was the song that started it all for her and rocketed her into the public consciousness with the viral video of Pharrell Williams’ reaction to her playing that song during a class at The Berklee School of Music where he was sitting in as a guest teacher.

It was an excellent show, and I’m happy I finally got to see a show at the famous Greek Theatre. It will probably be my one and only because I don’t ever feel compelled to return to Los Angeles again. I’ll write more about the rest of our trip in a future post.

 

Brandi Carlile with Mavis Staples at the Mann Center

Friday night I dragged my husband up to Philly to see Brandi Carlile with Mavis Staples at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. He’s a good guy and indulges my whims to travel places to see concerts even though it’s not his thing. If you’ve been around this blog at all you know how much I love Brandi Carlile and that I’ve seen her many, many times in concert. Having already seen her in Baltimore this summer I probably would have skipped this one until I found out that Mavis Staples was opening. That tipped the scales and made me decide I had to go. The show being on a Friday made it totally doable.

This was my first time at the Mann Center. It’s a really pretty venue. It’s in the middle of a park and has a gorgeous view of downtown Philly.

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Had we been in different seats I probably would have been a lot happier with it. I usually have great seats at Brandi shows because I buy them through the fan club presale, but in this case I didn’t decide to go until well after tickets had gone on sale so I missed out on anything close in the orchestra level of the pavilion. In my experience usually sitting in the front row of the balcony is better than sitting in the back of the orchestra. Not so in this case. My husband called it the poor man’s Filene Center (the outdoor pavilion at Wolf Trap). They do share a lot of design elements and the Mann Center was built about 10 years after the Filene Center so I do wonder if they share the same DNA. Anyway, like at the Filene Center the upper level has box seats at the front, an aisle, and then the balcony seats. At the Filene Center though the balcony is raised up enough such that people walking in the aisle are essentially below where you’re sitting so they don’t block your view. Not so at the Mann Center. If you’re sitting the front of the balcony you just get a steady stream of people walking through the aisle in front of you (though it did taper off a lot during Brandi’s set). Also the part of the balcony we were in really should have been marked as obstructed view seats anyway. That end of the venue had the ADA seating on the aisle behind the boxes. At best you had railings and empty chairs from the little ADA alcoves in your view if no one was sitting there and if anyone was actually sitting in them there was no way to see at all.

I would have been marginally less annoyed if anyone sitting in that area throughout the night actually needed ADA seating. At both Merriweather and Wolf Trap if I’m sitting in the pavilion I’m used to having to show my ticket like 80 times on my way to my seat. I remarked on the fact that we didn’t have to show our ticket at all to get to our seat. Now I understand the problem with that because it was just madness. Some people who decided they didn’t like their actual seats or possibly even people from the lawn (it was kind of rainy thanks to Dorian so not a great lawn night) came in and sat down. As they obviously didn’t have anyone who needed ADA seating with them the usher did stop and ask, but then let them stay and told them they’d just have to move if anyone came for those seats. Then apparently some people from the lawn paid to upgrade to get into the pavilion and out of the rain and the usher just put them in those seats. Those people left early. Meanwhile back in the balcony people were just moving all over the place trying to be able to see anything. The girls who wound up sitting next to us for awhile moved down to the ADA seating when it opened up, which annoyed me the most of everything because they knew they were going to be blocking everyone’s view. Once they got down there they realized there were some open seats in the box below and went down there and left me to see about 3/4 of a song as unobstructed as it was ever going to get before 3 random guys appeared from nowhere and sat there. I’m really annoyed with the venue for not indicating that the view was obstructed when I bought the tickets because I never would have bought them and also for not enforcing where people were sitting and letting people who didn’t need ADA accommodations sit in those seats.

It was like the worst show to have terrible seats for too because it was so amazing. I finally realized at some point last week that I was going to see this show on the same day that The Highwomen, the new country super group Brandi Carlile is a part of along with Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby, were releasing their album. I figured there was going to be some fun around that, but this was beyond anything I could possibly have imagined.

First up of course was Mavis Staples. She just an amazing legend. She turned 80 this year and has been doing this since was a kid as part of her family’s band The Staple Singers. Now she’s pretty much the only one left, and she’s still out there doing her thing. She put out a new album this year and is still touring. She’s joy personified and I just love her.

Brandi’s set was amazing and full of so many surprises. The setlist was largely the same as when I saw her at Merriweather earlier in the summer aside from the songs she sang as collaborations with all her surprise guests. I knew she and Mavis would sing at least one song together, which they did a cover of Mavis’ father, Pops Staples’s, song “Friendship”. What I was not expecting was Lukas Nelson joining them on the guitar. He apparently was playing the BB&T Pavilion the following night and got into town in time to come over and join Brandi for a few songs. It was obviously unclear whether he was going to make it in time because Brandi welcomed Mavis to the stage and then a stangehand walked over to her and obviously told her that Lukas Nelson was indeed in the house.

Country music legend Tanya Tucker was also there. Brandi produced her newest album and has been doing a lot of promotion of it with Tanya. So of course Tanya came out and sang “Delta Dawn”. Her dog even came out on the stage at one point.

That was not nearly the end of the surprises though. Fellow Highwoman Amanda Shires flew in from Nashville for the night to help celebrate the release of The Highwomen’s album. She joined in for about half of Brandi’s set playing the fiddle. When she’s not off doing stuff for her own career she plays in her husband Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit. I’m always disappointed when I see him in concert and she’s not there. I told my husband now I have to be disappointed every time she’s not backing Brandi on the fiddle too. They finally sang some Highwomen songs as the first two songs of the encore. In between there was yet another surprise with Tan France from Queer Eye coming out on the stage and talking about how much he loves Brandi. They invited everyone back out on the stage to sing The Highwomen’s first single “Redesigning Women”, complete with cardboard cutouts of Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby the two Highwomen that weren’t there. Then Brandi sang “If She Ever Leaves Me”, which is one of the Highwomen songs that she sings. I had pretty much already figured she was going to sing at least that one. I wasn’t sure about any of the other songs that are sung by the other Highwomen or as collaborations, but “Redesigning Women” makes sense because that song can be a singalong with just about anyone.

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It was a magical show, and I’m so happy I went up for it. I would have been so disappointed to have decided not to go and then heard about all of the amazing things that I missed out on later. I can’t wait to see Brandi again in January at the Ryman where I’m sure so much more magic will happen.

NYC Trip Day 3

For my final day in NYC I decided to finally go to the Tenement Museum, which has been on my list of things to do for a very long time. I’ve never made it before because everything is a timed tour, which always made me feel anxious about fitting it in around whatever else I might have planned during a trip. Since I had no other plans for Thursday and the weather was decent I decided it was finally time.

The Tenement Museum owns two old buildings on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which has been home to many different groups of immigrants including Germans, Eastern European Jews, and more recently Chinese and Salvadorans and Colombians. They bought the building in the late 80s after it had been sitting vacant for decades. They restored most of the apartments to recreate what they would have been like for specific families that lived there during various times. They did a lot of research to find out about the lives of the people who lived there and you learn about their lives on the apartment tours.

I wanted the weather to be nice because I wanted to do both a walking tour and one of the apartment tours. There are a number of tours to choose from, so I will definitely have to go back again the future to do some of the other ones. It is a fairly expensive proposition though. Each tour is $30, though you do get a 40% discount on one of your tours if you combine a walking tour and an apartment tour.

I did the Outside the Home walking tour and the Sweatshop Workers apartment tour. The Outside the Home tour was great. We walked around the neighborhood and learned about how it had changed and looked at some very specific buildings that were built during specific times to learn about how people lived, shopped, and worked. It was really interesting and our tour guide was wonderful.

I unfortunately did not think the tour guide for the apartment tour was nearly as good. I suspect the quality of the tours depends both on your guide and the group of people you are with. I enjoyed the walking tour way more the apartment tour and I suspect the different guide and different participants had something to do with it. My apartment tour looked the apartments of a couple of different families who ran small sweatshops sewing garments in their houses. It was really fascinating to learn about the families and think about how so many people lived in such a small space made even smaller by running a business out of it.

I would definitely recommend the Tenement Museum if you have the time and money. I definitely look forward to doing some of the other tours in the future.

Here’s some photos of a few of the buildings we talked about on the walking tour. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the apartments, so I don’t have any pictures of those. The one that has ABC on the front of it was the old Loew’s Canal Street Theatre. Apparently the old theatre, which seats over 2,500 people is still back there in disrepair and the Loew’s corporation still owns the building. Our tour guide showed us a picture of the inside. It would be an awesome space if someone fixed it up.

I had a little bit of time to kill after my tour before I had to head to Penn Station to pick up my train. I had to go back downtown to the hotel to pick up my bag, so I just wandered around a little bit and wound up at Pier 17, which is the whole huge new development of restaurants and shops that are still being built. Gentrification central for sure. They do have some nice benches and chairs built on the water though, so I sat and enjoyed the beautiful sun on my face and watched the ships go by for awhile. I’m pretty sure I’m powered by the sun and the water, so this was a very rejuvenating end to my trip.

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NYC Trip Day 2

My second day of this trip was my theatre day. Usually when I go up to NYC there are very specific shows that I want to see on Broadway. They are often the reason I’m traveling up there in the first place. Unfortunately Broadway has been full of jukebox musicals and musicals based on movies that I am just not interested in. Since there wasn’t anything I was dying to see I figured I would just get tickets for whatever I could get at the TKTS booth. I did figure out what my top choices were though and hoped that I could get tickets to them, which I did.

My top choice for the whole trip was to see The Ferryman. My friend Jenn who lives in the city is a TDF member and managed to snag me a cheap seat to the matinee. I wanted to do this show as the matinee because it’s 3 hours and 15 minutes. There are essentially three 1 hour acts with a 15 minute intermission between the first two acts and a three minute pause between the second two acts. I didn’t know a whole lot about the show going in other than it is about an Irish family. It takes place during the 1981 during “the troubles” when the actions of some family members a decade before come back to haunt them all. It is a sprawling cast of kids through seniors. Parts are very joyous and parts are super intense, especially the ending. I can’t imagine having to perform this show 8 times a week both to the length and the emotional toll I imagine it must take on the actors. I very much enjoyed it though and the three hours went by very quickly. It’s closing in July, but if you’re looking for a show to see in New York and are open to plays I would recommend it.

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Between shows I met up for a quick dinner with my friend Jenn, who I hadn’t seen for pretty much exactly a year which I know because Facebook started popping up memories of my trip to New York last April when I went up to see Brandi Carlile in concert and to see Children of a Lesser God and stayed with her. Since we were meeting up after she got off work and we both had tickets to separate shows at 8 pm, we met up the Turnstyle which is a food hall/shopping place built inside the Columbus Circle subway station. It was conveniently equidistant from our theatres and made it so we weren’t stressing about getting in and out of a sit-down restaurant. I had some very tasty plantain tacos from some taco place in there. I would definitely eat there again.

My evening show was My Fair Lady, which I wanted to see solely because Laura Benanti was playing Eliza Doolittle. I very carefully made sure that she was not scheduled to be out during this performance because otherwise I did not care. She was very good in the role, and it was a good production, but this show pretty firmly falls into the all your problematic faves category at this point. I couldn’t stop thinking about the recent Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode where she discovers that all her favorite musicals are all very problematic when looked at through today’s lens. They did try and make it a little better by returning to the original ending of the play where Eliza walks away from Professor Higgins, which was changed in the musical. I thought it was a little awkward since they see the script all the way through and she comes back to him only to turn right around and walk away. I appreciate the sentiment though I guess because he is really terrible to Eliza throughout the whole show and never really, truly comes around.

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NYC Trip Day 1

My husband had to go up to NYC for work for a few days this past week. I needed to use up some vacation time, so I decided to make use of the free hotel room and join him. Since he had to be downtown for work we stayed down there in the Millennium Hilton, which is right across from the World Trade Center site. Our room had a fantastic view of the memorial.

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We took the train up on Tuesday morning. He headed into work and I wandered around the city. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money to get into a museum, so I decided to go up to the main building of the New York Public Library to see the exhibits they had up. On my way up to the library I walked past Macy’s and saw that they had some flower show up called Journey to Paradisos, which involved elaborate flower displays with spaceships and aliens in their windows and all over inside the main level. The subject matter was kind of weird, but the flowers were pretty. I didn’t get any good shots of the window displays because the sun was at a bad angle and the reflections of the buildings in the glass blocked out was actually inside the windows.

It’s been over a decade since I last went inside the library. The last time I was there they had really cool exhibits on illuminated manuscripts and maps. The exhibits up this time were not nearly as elaborate. They had a Stonewall 50 exhibit celebrating LGBTQ rights and 50 years since the Stonewall riots. There was also a Walt Whitman exhibit that I didn’t spend a lot of time in because I don’t care that much about Walt Whitman and the space felt really crowded and claustrophobic so I just kind of wanted to get out of it.

I hadn’t originally planned to see a show on Tuesday night, but I had looked at what else was going on around the city and didn’t see anything that struck my fancy. I noticed that the new play Burn This starring Keri Russell and Adam Driver was in previews, so I convinced my husband we should go see it. It’s a revival of a 1987 play and is still set in the 80s here although for the most part it could have been set today. There are a few references and one scene that revolves around an answering machine that would have had to be changed, but other than that it could have happened in modern times. It did allow us to joke about Keri Russell only wanting to play 80s characters and my husband wondering if she just brought over her wardrobe from The Americans.

It’s a 4 character play with Keri Russell playing a woman whose roommate and dance partner was recently killed in a boating accident with his gay lover. The other characters played by David Furr and Brandon Uranowitz are her boyfriend and her other roommate and Adam Driver who plays the brother of the dead roommate who comes in and sort of upends all of their lives. Adam Driver is perfectly cast in this role. I can’t imagine anyone else in the part. There is some wonderful humor with him and articles of clothing. I’m really glad we decided to go see it on somewhat of a whim as I really enjoyed it.

I also really wish I could have someone associated with the show make me a playlist of all the songs used in and around it. To get you in the mood for the 80s setting of the show they had a fantastic playlist of 80s songs playing while you were waiting for the play to start. Then there were some really great music cues throughout the play itself. They really all felt perfectly placed and meaningful and not just let’s throw some 80s songs into this. I don’t really know anything about the original run of the play, so I would be curious to know about the music used back then. I’m hoping once the play is fully running that maybe some equally nerdy music person will create a playlist from it or if nothing else tell me what the song used as the main music cue at the beginning and end of the first act is because while I totally know the song I can’t for the life of me remember what the name of it is or who it’s by and I couldn’t pick out enough lyrics to even try and Google it and it’s driving me crazy. So you know, someone else go see it and tell me what that song is.

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