Hilton Head Vacation 2021

For a number of years now we’ve been taking a beach vacation in South Carolina in May. Obviously we just outright canceled our May 2020 trip, and back in January I could tell at the rate that vaccines were rolling out that we weren’t going to be fully vaccinated by the time May rolled around. So we decided to push the trip back a little bit this year and reschedule it for the end of September.

I had a lot of apprehension going into the trip for a long time because the case rates in South Carolina were so high and it seemed crazy to purposefully be traveling into that fire where things were out of control and there were no measures in place to contain them. It caused a lot of anxiety and thoughts of canceling for several months before the trip, but since my doctor who basically told me to keep living in a bubble due to my immunocompromised status signed off on it I managed to take her advice and still go. It also helped that cases finally started to dramatically fall in South Carolina a couple weeks before our trip so that they were still super high but only about half of what they were at their peak. Granted given the lag in hospitalizations following cases we were there just as their hospital capacity was peaking, so it’s a good thing I didn’t get bitten by the shark that was swimming along side the shore one day. The lifeguard spotted it and made everyone get out of the water.

I’m super glad we went. It wound up being the perfect beach week. I could not have asked for nicer weather. It was in the mid-80s and not overly humid pretty much every day. I quickly set up a little beach routine for every day. I got up and went for a sunrise walk on the beach. I came back and ate breakfast, and then went out for a bike ride on the beach and/or some of the bike paths around Hilton Head. After lunch I went down to the beach and sat under an umbrella and read for a few hours before going back and getting showered for dinner.

We only did take out because I was definitely not going to eat in restaurants where the vaccination rate is super low and no one is wearing masks even outside. That was fine though. I haven’t eaten at restaurants much at home yet either and not at all since cases have started going back up. We had a nice balcony, so we just sat out on the balcony and ate our dinner at the resort and then just hung out enjoying the nice weather and chatting until bed time. The most adventurous thing we did was go play mini-golf on Friday morning. It was a super chill week, which was exactly what I wanted and needed. Honestly that’s pretty much the way the vacation would have gone anyway other than that we would have eaten in the actual restaurants rather than doing take out and might have partaken in one or two of the activities at the resort like s’mores night.

I was trying to think if it was more crowded at the resort this year than it was when we stayed there back in May of 2019 or if my perception of crowds has just changed due to COVID. The common courtyards and pools didn’t seem that much more crowded to me, but the beach definitely did. I still managed to be mostly far enough away from people to feel comfortable, though there were a few times where people decided to set up right next to me for no good reason and I moved to an emptier space. I was also entirely confused by the number of school aged children that were staying at the resort. Do kids get some kind of fall break that I never got as a kid? Even then it seems really early for that even for kids who went back to school in August, but what do I know? Or has everyone just decided after a year and half of virtual school that they don’t really care if their kids miss a week of school for vacation anymore? It was very weird to me and definitely more kids than I was expecting to see given that we normally purposefully plan our vacations in shoulder season when kids aren’t quite of school yet or have just gone back.

We’ll be going back to our regularly scheduled trip in May of 2022. Hopefully things will be much improved by then and we can even go out and eat at some restaurants then. I’m already looking forward to being back at the beach, and I hope that the weather gods gift us weather as good as we got on this trip.

Newport Presents Folk On

I spent the past three days in Rhode Island (sadly I’m still there as I type this waiting to get a tire replaced instead of on the road home) for this year’s modified version of the Newport Folk Festival, which they were calling Newport Presents Folk On. It’s somehow both a smaller and bigger affair. Smaller in that each day was only 50% of normal capacity, it started later in the day, and they eliminated one of the stages so there were fewer performances than usual. With 5,000 people in the audience it was still the most people I’ve been around since before the pandemic. I found out that back in June when things were looking really good instead of trending in the wrong direction Rhode Island told them they could lift the capacity restriction. I appreciate that they stuck with it and honored that they sold the tickets promising 50% capacity. No other festival would have done that, but that is the Newport way. They did require proof of vaccine or a negative COVID test for entry. None of that is foolproof, but it helps. Space at the main stage didn’t feel much different to me because of the fact that they pushed the stage out presumably for more room “back stage”. I still didn’t feel that close to other people most of the time and if anyone was within a couple feet of me I had my mask on. There was plenty of room at the other stage to be far, far away from people if you wanted, which I did. The changes they made also helped free up some of the bottlenecks in the travel lanes between stages so that there wasn’t a lot of crowding like there is most years. Hopefully between that and the fact the festival is all outside with a nice breeze off the bay it was reasonably safe.

Aside from the set up of the festival itself being different this year was different for me because I actually had friends there with me instead of just my begrudging husband who would never do this if I didn’t force him to. One of my friends has also been coming to Newport for years, but we didn’t really know each other before. She was friends with some of my friends and I knew who she was but we never really talked ourselves. We had just started to hang out a little before the last festival and said we’d look for each other, but not even enough to have each other’s phone numbers at that point, and we never did run into each other. Now it’s funny because we’ve become good friends since then and text pretty much every day. She convinced one of our other friends to come for the first time as well as one of her other friends who I had never met before. So the four of us ran around the festival all day and left my husband with our blankets at the main stage where he always just stays. My friend and I are both of the same mind that you should never be somewhere music isn’t playing and since the others were new to the festival they were happy to just follow our lead.

I was a little bummed going into the festival this year because due to the capacity restrictions they extended the festival to six days instead of three so they could still sell the same number of tickets over all. You could buy tickets for Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or both. We just stuck with our normal weekend tickets, but when they started announcing some of the artists who were playing it seemed like everyone I wanted to see was going to be playing one of the weekdays. I would still love to see Allison Russell, Hiss Golden Messenger, Lake Street Dive, Christopher Paul Stelling, Katie Pruitt, and Julien Baker, but in retrospect I’m also glad to have had the experience I did. My advice to people going to Newport has always been go see the people you don’t know and always go to the themed curated sets where you never know who will pop up. I feel like being there on the days I was forced me to do that a little bit more and of course it meant I got to see some wonderful things I would not have otherwise.

I felt like there were mostly (though this is not 100% true) two major things going on during the weekend sets. You had the theme of really trying to give the stage to Black artists (even more so than usual because I don’t feel like the artists are ever all that white even though the audience for sure is) and then sort of doing the opposite of when Bob Dylan shocked everyone by going electric at Newport and having a lot of artists do acoustic stuff. You had Pattersoon Hood and Mike Cooley of the Drive By Truckers billed as the Dimmer Twins doing acoustic DBT songs, Phosphorescent played acoustic for what they said was the first time ever, and although Jason Isbell switches back and forth he did an all acoustic set with just Amanda Shires and Sadler Vaden instead of his full band. It’s funny because he got way more into the electric rock than he has been on his newest album Reunions and now that he finally got to play some of it live for an audience he took all those songs and made them acoustic.

Although I did love Friday and Saturday, Sunday is what really felt like the festival to me. One of the things I love the most about Newport is all the collaborations and people popping into other people’s sets including people not even on the bill and who are just there for the love. That didn’t happen much during the first couple days. I was honestly shocked that Amanda Shires didn’t join Natalie Hemby during her set to sing a Highwomen song since they were both there. All the themed sets where they were inviting artist after artist to the stage happened Sunday. It makes sense because that way some of the Newport die hards like Brandi Carlile, Jess from Lucius, M.C. Taylor from Hiss Golden Messenger, and Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes could be there and overlap both parts of the festival because I’m guessing they’re all going to pop again today aside from the ones that have actual sets to play.

The most Newport set of the weekend of course was the final set on Sunday called Allison Russell’s Once and Future Sound. Instead of having big named band X close the festival, Newport does these curated collaborative sets. And in this case they handed the reins to Allison Russell. I’m not sure how this all came about, but it seems crazy and so very Newport that someone who has been in the folk scene for awhile, but who literally just released her first solo album and is not someone who has been well known up until this point was not only given an open door herself but invited to bring as many other Black women as she could along with her. I thought there might be a little more torch passing and was 100% expecting Mavis Staples to be part of it. They paid homage to her, but she’s playing the Newport Jazz Festival next weekend and was saving herself for that. The final surprise guest of the night though was Chaka Khan because why not having Chaka Khan come out and sing two songs to close out the festival. It was just pure joy. If you could have seen my face behind my mask you would have seen the biggest grin on it. It was the best way to close out the night watching all these wonderful artists having so much fun on stage and the audience totally living it up to. I’m so glad that I got to be back and experience the joy that is Newport again.

Family Reunion

I promised in a previous post that I would be writing about my recent trip to Massachusetts. I almost forgot to do it, but even though it’s a little delayed I’m finally getting around to it. For the most part I hadn’t seen any of my family since Christmas of 2019 before COVID. As you may recall my mom and sister did drive down from NJ and surprise me right before this last Christmas. I only got to spend about 90 minutes with them though and they were the only family I’d seen for a year and half.

My sister recently took a new job and moved back to Massachusetts with her family. Since all the adults and my eldest niece were vaccinated my husband and I decided to go up over my sister and my’s birthday (yes, we do have the same birthday one year apart). My parents decided to fly out from Arizona and we also got my cousin and her husband to come from St. Louis.

It was really great to get to spend time with my family again. My sister has a really nice pool and backyard area in her new house so we spent a lot of time hanging out by the pool. We also went hiking in a place called World’s End one day. I expected there to be some really dramatic vista or something given the name, but there wasn’t really. Although at some point you do get a nice view of Boston from across the water. My husband looked it up and apparently at one point they were planning on building a nuclear power plant there, so maybe that’s where the name comes from. We stopped on the way home at some place called the Lobster Pound and got lobster rolls. Being my family we also played a lot of cards while I was there.

My nieces are getting older and are now at the age where they don’t care that much about hanging out with me while I’m there. They were mostly off doing their own thing. I know it’s an inevitable part of growing up, but it’s still a little sad.

One day we’ll probably fly up when visiting, but I’m still not ready to get on a plane so we decided to drive up. It took us around 7 and a half on the way up with two stops and about 9 on the way back. My nephew once told me that Connecticut is the worst based on drives they used to make between NYC and Rhode Island. I am now inclined to agree with him. Connecticut is the worst. It’s long and the traffic is terrible. Also if you want to easily get food and use their service centers your choices are pretty much McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts at every stop. For the few places that had additional offerings it seems like they didn’t survive the pandemic as the Qdoba at the one we stopped at on the way up was closed and the Sbarro at the one we stopped at on the way back was closed.

I would up eating McDonald’s for the first time in 16 years and remembering why I never eat McDonald’s. It only barely has a resemblance to actual food. It was not good at all. Coming home I decided to just get a milkshake and I couldn’t even drink that. It just tasted like chemicals to me and I thought it was disgusting. If you like McDonald’s I guess you do you, but I honestly don’t know how people eat it or why they choose to go there when they have literally any other option. We’ll probably be driving back up there at Christmas this year as well and I might pack myself food because it seems like all my other options on that drive are terrible.

I’m very happy that we’re finally at a place where I feel okay seeing family and friends again. I hope it stays that way.

Trip to Gwynn’s Island

This past week would typically be the week that we go to our annual beach trip in South Carolina. Back in January I started doing the math though and figured out that it was extremely unlikely that everyone in our mixed households would be vaccinated by the beginning of May, so we decided to reschedule it for September. Since I had already taken the vacation time I decided to look for something easily drivable for just my husband and me to do. I just put into VRBO that I wanted something on the water and found a house on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia on a remote island called Gwynn’s Island.

It’s not somewhere I would choose to go back to in normal times, but since my main criteria for this trip were somewhere on the water without a lot of people this certainly fit the bill. I knew it was going to be too cold that far north this time of year to do anything super beachy, so it was fine with me that this was on the bay and not the ocean and thus there isn’t really much beach to speak of. The house had a great roof deck overlooking the bay though and I was perfectly content to sit up there and read and stare out at the water. The house itself was quite nice and was the most well stocked rental house I have ever been in. They even had bikes and kayaks we could use, though we didn’t wind up using either.

The island is pretty much all residential. There are only about 600 full-time residents. I saw stuff indicating that a lof of the homes at this point are vacation homes and second homes, but I couldn’t find anything that indicated how many homes were owner occupied vs. vacation homes. There is one restaurant right over the bridge from the mainland, but it didn’t have anything vegetarian for my husband to eat, so we didn’t eat there. The small town of Mathews is about 10 minute away and we went there every evening to grab carryout from some of the restaurants there. There is also a small history museum on the island, which we would have gone to in normal non-COVID times. Based on stuff I read about the island online it seems like it has a pretty interesting history.

While as I said it isn’t somewhere I would plan to go back to as I prefer an actual beach and a little bit more to do on my vacations, but it was a perfectly pleasant and relaxing trip to get away.

Deep Creek Lake Vacation

This past week for the first time since the pandemic started we went somewhere other than our house. It’s the longest period of time I can think of that I didn’t travel somewhere. I wanted to stick somewhere within driving distance and staying in state meant we didn’t have to worry about any quarantine rules between states should there be any major outbreaks by the time our trip rolled around. So I found a house in Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland.

It wound up being a nice little place to stay, though it was a bit stressful right before our trip when I got a call that the place had been listed on both VRBO and AirBnB and had somehow been double booked. Luckily they had another property available and the other family that had this house rented was able to shift their trip by a few days and stay at the other house. For a minute though I was thinking that it was going to be very 2020 for my trip to get snatched out from under me at the last minute.

Based on the photos I thought the house was right on the lake, but really the photos were from the boat slip they have that’s a couple of blocks away. If you squinted really hard between some houses and trees you could see a little bit of the lake from their yard. It would have been nice to have more of a water view from the house, but it wasn’t that big of a deal and it was way too cold for us to go swimming or anything.

View from their dock slip

Luckily the weather wasn’t as bad as originally forecast. It was warm when we arrived on Monday afternoon and we took advantage of that evening to make a fire in the nice fire pit they had outside. It started raining before we went to bed on Monday and poured rain all through Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, but after that it cleared up aside from a little bit of additional rain late on Thursday evening.

Since it was rainy on Tuesday we just stayed inside and read, watched TV, and played some board games. They also had a wood burning fireplace inside so we took advantage of that the rest of the trip since it was too cold for me to want to do one outside the other nights we were there.

We did a couple of short hikes on Wednesday because my husband had a work call he wanted to jump on so we did some quick hikes so that he could go home in the middle to take the call. We did a hike in New Germany State Park that was 2 miles round trip and had a nice view at the top. Since we wanted to grab dinner at a restaurant in downtown Oakland we found some walking paths near there that wound up to be less nice than the description made them seem. It said there was a path along a river between downtown and some park and then a loop around the park. The river was more a small stream and the other side of the trail was next to a busy road, so it did not seem very nature like. It also took you by the waste water treatment plant. So not the most picturesque walk, but got me the rest of my steps for the day. Thursday we did a 4.5 mile hike in Deep Creek Lake State park, which was much more woodsy.

It was a nice relaxing trip. It was nice to get away from our house for a few days since between working from home and no longer having much of a social life that doesn’t happen over a screen I spend almost all my time there. As I wanted it was also somewhere where we really didn’t have to interact with a whole lot of other people aside from running into restaurants to grab take out for dinner and walking by a few other people on hiking trails. I was pleasantly surprised that pretty much almost everyone we saw was wearing masks as I had prepared myself for people there not complying with the state laws on that. I also cut myself off from news and social media while I was gone. I highly recommend doing that for a few days. I won’t be doing any big trips like I normally do for at least another year at this point based on how things are going, but I’m already thinking about somewhere else to travel close to home where there won’t be too many people. Maybe a winter beach trip.

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.