Last Week Delight: Beach Edition

Last week I went to Hilton Head for my annual beach vacation. So this week’s delights are things that brought me joy while I was at the beach.

  • The weather. It was pleasant, though not perfect beach weather. It was a great temperature, but there was a strong, cold wind happening most of the time we were there that made it feel a bit chilly even though it was in the 80’s. Given the gross weather in Baltimore while I was gone, I will not complain. It didn’t rain and it was nice enough to spend almost the entire week outside doing stuff, so I will take it.
  • Dogs on the beach. There were lots of people walking with their dogs on the beach. I am not a dog person at all. I like them fine when they are far from me, but I don’t like their barky, jumpy, drooly ways. But I enjoyed watching all the dogs running around on the beach and playing in the water. They all looked like they were living their best lives. It’s the kind of joy I would like to feel.
  • There is nothing like a nice hot shower after getting all sweaty and covered in sunscreen. It’s so nice to feel clean after the gross greasiness that unfortunately comes with putting on sunscreen.
  • The perfect amount of cheese. We got groceries for breakfast and lunch. I ordered a 1/4 pound of provolone cheese and it wound up being the exact number of slices of cheese that I needed for the sandwiches I was eating while I was there.
  • The sound of cicadas. I’m not talking about the crazy 17 year cicadas we experienced last year in Maryland. I’m talking about regular annual cicadas that come out during the summer. In Baltimore they don’t really show up until late summer. In fact, by the time I really hear their humming on a regular basis it means summer is waning. But in South Carolina they are already out. It was lovely to sit out on our balcony in the evening and listen to them.
  • Beach walks. I love walking on the beach. I do miss being able to walk barefoot in the surf, but I have too many foot issues to walk barefoot for any distance these days. It’s still so lovely to walk on the beach even if it’s just on the sand wearing shoes.
  • Rainbow. On our final night at the beach we saw a rainbow out over the water.
  • And now for your moment of musical delight. I have written about the Lucius song, “Dance Around It” before. They were on Late Night with Stephen Colbert last week and sang it. They’ve mostly been doing “Next to Normal” on everything I’ve seen before this. It’s probably my least favorite song off the new album, so I was very happy to see them performing “Dance Around It” instead. Even though the subject of the song is sad, the sound is just so joyful it’s perfect. When Celisse and Sheryl Crow join in with backing vocals I cannot help getting a huge grin on my face. This song makes me so happy. It’s definitely going to be at the top of my list for 2022.

Back to Broadway Baby

In April of 2020 my friend Jenny and I had tickets to see Company on Broadway. I was super excited to see it because it was a gender flipped production that originally premiered in the West End, and it’s the first show I ever considered flying to London to see. So I was super happy when they announced a Broadway run. Then COVID happened and the show had to shut down before it officially opened. They refunded our tickets, and it was unclear if the show would ever return.

Jenny, another friend Sarah, and I also had purchased tickets in August of 2019 to see The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in November of 2020. We joked about how long it was going to be before we actually got to see the show. Little did we know. That show they never refunded our money, they just kept rescheduling it. I think we rescheduled it three times with the final date for this past weekend. When it finally seemed like that date was going to stick and Company announced that they were going to reopen and put tickets back on sale we decided to rebuy the tickets for the same weekend, make it a two show day, and stay overnight instead of doing a day trip.

As you know if you know anything about me, I have been super cautious during COVID due to my immunocompromised status and have pretty much done very little in the past few years. This was the biggest thing I have done since the pandemic started. I’m glad these tickets were happily timed in the lull that it seems we’re going to get between Omicron variant surges. Hopefully the semi-low case rate plus keeping my N95 plastered to my face pretty much any time we weren’t in our hotel room or when we were eating outside kept me safe. Our friend Sarah decided she wasn’t ready yet to do something involving that many people which I get, but luckily my friend Jenn who lives in New York City agreed to take those tickets so they didn’t go to waste. Plus it meant that I got to hang out with her for the first time in two and half years which I was very happy about.

Music Man was enjoyable. I thought Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster brought a good, fun energy to their roles and had good chemistry together. The ensemble was really good. I also forgot how fond I am of all the songs in a Music Man. I very much enjoyed the show, but it was nothing groundbreaking for sure. It’s the Music Man as the Music Man ever was. I kind of like that my first show back was a classic though.

While I liked the Music Man, I absolutely adored Company. As I mentioned earlier this is a somewhat gender flipped revival of the 1970 Sondheim musical. Bobby, the central character of the show, who is usually a man was a woman in this production played by Katrina Lenk. Thus the three characters that Bobbie dates in this production were gender flipped to male. They also turned the couple Paul and Amy into a gay couple Paul and Jamie. I think all the changes worked really well. As the show is about a character turning 35 and feeling pressured by their friends and society to be married, I saw some people saying making Bobbie a woman was going to not read very well in this day and age. I didn’t feel that way at all though. I just felt like the show was a commentary on the good and bad of marriage and relationships and figuring out what that means in your own life.

In addition to the gender flipped aspect of it, I was also really keen on seeing this production because Patti Lupone has been starring as Joanne in it both in the West End and now on Broadway. Patti Lupone is Broadway royalty, and I had never seen her in a live production until now. She’s 72, so she’s getting up there in age and it’s unclear how many more chances I would have had to see her. Luckily she survived getting COVID a few weeks ago and was back in the show in time for our show. I would have been so disappointed if she hadn’t been there.

I wish that I had seen another actual production of Company prior to this one, so that I had a reference point for how it’s been staged before. I’ve seen the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Original Cast Album: Company about the recording of the original cast album. There was a staged concert production for the New York Philharmonic in 2011 that they filmed and released in movie theaters for a few showings as part of those Fathom events that Jenny and I went to see, but it wasn’t a fully staged production so it still didn’t give me a full sense of how it’s been staged in the past. I’m just very curious because I thought the staging for this production was fantastic and very clever. The number “Getting Married Today” was particularly amazing. I loved the whole thing and am so very glad that COVID did not ruin my chance to see it but just delayed it for a little while.

It was so great to be back in New York City after so long. I’m used to going several times a year, so this was a long break for me, and I realized how much I missed going up there. Despite some COVID precautions like wearing a mask constantly and not eating inside despite the lousy weather, it felt almost like a normal thing which is something I haven’t felt in a very long time.

Long Weekend in Lewes

I decided a few weeks ago that I needed a real break from life and from work. After pretty much losing my entire in-person social life once the weather got cold and it was too cold to do things outside and having all my holiday plans canceled thanks to Omicron, I was at a point where I needed something to look forward to and some actual human interaction. I knew my husband would have President’s Day off, and I needed to use up some vacation time so I figured it would be a good weekend to go away. I asked one of our other couple friends if they wanted to join us, and they said yes. They laid low the week before we left, and we all tested before the trip to be as safe as possible.

I had never been to Lewes, Delaware before. I was looking for something in easy driving distance for both of us and another couple that we’re friends with loves it there and goes multiple times a year. So I thought if I could find a decent place to stay it seemed like a good winter beach getaway. From what I could tell it has a cute little downtown area, but since unless you’re new here you already know I’m still pretty much living in my own private COVID lockdown due to being immunocompromised. So we didn’t really get to enjoy the full experience the town had to offer, but maybe some future trip.

Even if just spent a lot of time hanging around in the house that we rented, it was still a nice, much needed getaway. I went out for walks on the beach every day, which is one of my favoritest things to do in the whole wide world. It’s nicer when it’s warm, but it was still pleasant in the cold too. I don’t actually think I would want to go to Lewes in the summer because the beach is not very wide, at least where we were staying, and it has to be insanely crowded when the town is full of summer beach vacationers.

We also went to Cape Henlopen State Park one afternoon, which was not too far from where we were staying. We just walked around the paved bike loop trail and walked out to the end of the fishing pier. It’s an interesting park in that it’s an old fort, Fort Miles, that from what I gather was mostly used during WWII but was in some sort of operation until the 90s when more and more parcels of land got ceded over the state for a park. But you also have beachy stuff in there too. So it’s quite a juxtaposition. I kept being annoyed because even though the park does indeed have many, many signs in it, somewhere every time we got to some junction where we were trying to figure out which way to go there was never a sign that was helpful to us. It might be nice to check out some of the non-paved, sandy trails at some point if we ever go back.

Mostly though we just hung around in the house, chatted, and played games. We made breakfast and lunch and then found places to get take out for dinner. I was pleased because there was a barbecue place that had baby back ribs and also had something my vegetarian husband could eat. Although we do have a good barbecue place in our neighborhood that he can eat at, which is rare for barbecue joints, they only have St. Louis Style ribs, which I don’t like as much. That’s pretty much true of all the barbecue places in Baltimore. If they have ribs at all they’re St. Louis style. So I was happy to have a chance to eat baby back ribs for a change.

There is also a ferry that runs from Lewes to Cape May, NJ. We weren’t prepared to sit inside a ferry cabin at this point, and it was obviously too cold to stand outside on the deck, but it might be fun if we go back in the future to take the ferry over for the day and check out Cape May, which I hear is lovely but where I have also never been.

All in all it was a very lovely weekend away, and I’m really glad I decided to put it together.

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.