Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: An Epic Friday Night

“Can’t you feel those hills around you, Can’t you feel that touch of home, And don’t you wish you’d never gone, There are some things memories can’t bring home.” Hazel Dickens

There is one weekend every year when State Street in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee turns into a haven for Americana, folk, and bluegrass musicians. It is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (“BRRR”). I headed south into the mountains from the flatlands of Indiana for a visit with my precious family and Friday night at BRRR.

I have not missed a BRRR since 2003 (I think), back when it was just a couple thousand people and I was living in walking distance (if you had to walk). Now, it is becoming a top-notch festival. While I am biased, I would recommend BRRR to anyone. You can’t beat great bands, both new an old, kind people, and a fun atmosphere.

Sunshine and her hubby were my partners in crime for the evening. Sunshine’s man is an organizer extraordinaire, so our itinerary was well-researched and set. We started with dinner at 620 State with a prime view of State Street and the tunes of J.P. Parsons in the background. Bless the hearts of those folks at 620, they carefully helped me have a nice gluten-free dinner on a crazy busy night with a limited menu. From our dinner table I happily spotted friends and acquaintances from my former life. Oh, and former Governor and candidate for the Virginia Senate Tim Kaine.

Our line up for the rest of night was Whiskey Gentry, Lydia Loveless, Folk Soul Revival, The Black Lillies, Billy Joe Shaver, and City and Colour. All were good, if not exceptional. However, for me the night was epic because it was a delightful combination of some of my all time favorite tunes and one of my all time favorite people.

Folk Soul Revival not only played Sweet Virginia (I like to think it is what the Commonwealth is singing to me), but they covered Tom Petty’s Don’t Do Me Like That and Prince’s Purple Rain. Yes, Purple Rain. It was awesome. Also, Tim Kaine played the harmonica on a number with Folk Soul for Tennessee Shines, an excellent radio program for WDVX out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Folk Soul Revival laid it down, big time.

Speaking of Knoxville, Tennessee, The Black Lillies (based in my law school stomping grounds of Knoxville) played like their hair was on fire at the Paramount Theatre. I adore this band. Their music is independent, personal, and high order entertaining. As an additional bonus, they are nice people and Cruz Contreras and the boys in the band are all easy on the eyes. However, the lone lady in the band stole the show on Friday night. Trisha Gene Brady gave a moving (she was brought to tears herself) a cappella performance of Hazel Dickens’s Hills of Home. It was amazing. Sunshine looked at me afterward and said “that had to be worth the trip” and, indeed, it was. I would happily drive again from FW to Bristol to hear it. They also did one of my all time favorites – There’s Only One – which made me smile. If you haven’t bought the music of The Black Lillies, please do yourself a favor and do it now.

The cherry on my Friday night at BRRR sundae came from a music veteran. This guy was writing songs for the Outlaws . . . hello, Waylon. I have been listening to Billy Joe Shaver for years. He is a lovely man. Once a hell raiser and now a Jesus advocate. I met him twice, once in Houston and then in Knoxville, and he is just a joy (I like to think he was telling the truth when he said he remembered me). I wandered down to the State Street stage after The Black Lillies just in time to hear Billy Joe Shaver belt out I’m Gonna Live Forever. No one does this tune like him. And for the frat-boy next to me who thinks that is a Robert Earl Keen song, puh-lease. Billy Joe was writing those kinds of tunes when REK was knee-high to a grasshopper. Billy Joe wrote that song with his son Eddie, a talented guitarist who died too young. Hearing it live is almost a religious experience.

It was a perfect end to a perfect evening. Heck, even the weather was perfect. This was the best Friday night at BRRR in my memory. The music was epic and the company was perfect.

Thanks to Sunshine, her man, and Bristol for making it a beautiful night.

Gluten-Free Fine Dining in Fort Wayne

I am over at the Fort Wayne Insider talking about eating gluten-free at The Oyster Bar and BakerStreet Steaks, Seafood, & Spirits. These two fabulous Fort Wayne spots are ready, willing, and able to serve up a great gluten-free meal.

The Oyster Bar impressed me with raw oysters and fish done on cedar. BakerStreet offers a full gluten-free menu and the best steak in town, oh, and a to-die-for flourless chocolate cake.

Check it out and enjoy.

The Anchor Leg: Niagara Falls

Here we are at the end of the line. I left Niagara-on-the-Lake with a two spot itinerary, first Niagara Falls then home. The only way to get from Niagara-on-the-Lake is the parkway, stay off the QEW. The parkway is too pretty to miss.

The Falls are everything they are described to be. Loud. The roar from the water is amazing. Lovely (and loud) white noise. Wet. What people like to call a “mist” is just straight up rain. Seriously. Even if you are just doing what I did and staying at the Table Rock over look you need to take a poncho, umbrella, or rain jacket. When the wind hits the “mist” consider yourself drenched and cold. Beautiful. It is undeniably beautiful. Additional proof, in my opinion, that God is the most talented artist.

I enjoyed my visit, although I kind of pulled a Clark-Griswold-at-the-Grand-Canyon . . . I parked, got out, walked up to it, thought here it is, took some pictures, and left.

Things to know about a visit to the Falls before you visit:

  1. It is a total tourist trap. How can you tell? There is a casino, a Hershey Store, and a Hard Rock Cafe (on both the Canada and U.S.A. sides).
  2. Bring a towel or something to keep your phone or camera lens wiped down. Remember, it is wet there.
  3. Parking at the designated Falls parking lot in Canada will cost you $20.00 and best I can tell there is no where else to park. Monopoly.
  4. The Rainbow Bridge crossing the gorge will be slow-moving but the pictures will be worth it.
  5. People there and throughout Ontario love to say escarpment, as in the Niagara escarpment. Be prepared.

Now for the pictures. Enjoy and don’t forget to pack your raincoat.

I left the Falls and had an uneventful return to FW. It was a great adventure. I look forward to heading out again soon.

P.S. If you missed my blather on my other stops on this trip you check them out . . . Oh Canada!Toronto 1, Toronto 2, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gluten-free Travel, and Traveling Solo. Thanks for tolerating my shameless self-promotion.

Second Stop: Niagara-on-the-Lake

My meandering through Niagara wine country ended in the tiny little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (“NOTL”). NOTL is a historic town that sits right on the Niagara River as it strays from or into (whichever it is) Lake Ontario. NOTL was the first capitol of Ontario, hosted battles in the War of 1812, and is home to the Shaw Festival. It is a wonderful spot for history buffs and theatre enthusiasts.

I arrived in the afternoon, just in time for lunch. I took up temporary residence at The Moffat Inn just east of the main drag in NOTL (Queen Street). The Moffat is small, quaint, and accommodating. Of course, immediately upon arrival I requested a different room. My original room was right next to the back door which stays unlocked all night. Um,no. The desk clerk was kind enough to move me (after calling to see if a sister hotel in town could accommodate me), very kind. I then set out to explore.

There is a town park is right across the street from the Inn that was filled with people, music, and children playing in the water fountain. On down was the grand Prince of Wales Hotel, where you can have high tea and dine in style. Passed the Prince of Wales is a street filled, I imagine everyday all summer, with tourists. It is a tourist town, which means it is required to be filled with random shops catering to the needs of tourists (needs that they don’t know they have until they get there). I was not in the mood to participate in tourist shopping (when you are traveling solo your budget tends to be smaller), but I was looking for food.

Doors of the Prince of Wales, which are constantly manned by a gloved gentleman.

I opted for something Greek at Yianni’s Mediterranean Cuisine. I enjoyed a full plate of stuffed eggplant, which the server kind confirmed was gluten-free. I know, the asking gets old but I have to do it. Sigh. I cleaned my plate and enjoyed the cool quiet back patio location.

One of the primary attractions in NOTL is The Shaw Festival. The Shaw Festival is an extremely active theatre organization that operates in four local theaters in NOTL and “produces and presents the work of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and playwrights writing anywhere in the world during, or about, the era of Shaw’s lifetime.” I immediately took the position that if I was going to have a NOTL experience I needed to see a show. I went to the box office at The Royal George Theatre and bought a ticket for 8:00 p.m. performance of His Girl Friday.

I took the rest of the afternoon off. I sat on my deck at the Inn, watched people, and worked on my pictures from Toronto. It was a lovely break followed by a much needed nap. My nap was followed by a walk down to the water and enjoy the view. You can see the Toronto skyline from NOTL and many folks were playing, resting, and visiting in the park. Very pretty.

The theatre features a 30 minute talk on each production prior to start of the play. So, I wandered over to the Festival Theatre in time for the talk. Luckily, the theatre has a little cafe in the lobby so I snacked and listened to the history of His Girl Friday. It was a nice preface to what was a fun show. The theatre was crowded with locals and tourists alike. Once the show began I understood why, the acting was outstanding. The female lead was especially charming and engaging. It was a great time. The theatre is worth a trip to NOTL.

Admittedly, I used a chunk of my time in NOTL to recover from the marathon of walking I did in Toronto. NOTL is a great place to relax. You can enjoy your quaint old hotel or Inn, lounge in the park and people watch, or pound the pavement shopping and visiting art galleries and restaurants. Either way, it is a peaceful time in NOTL.

It is a nice little town, but be advised that there will be tourists, and plenty of them. Some like me and some worse. My visit to NOTL was short, but enjoyable. Next, I made my way out of NOTL and down the parkway thirty minutes to Niagara Falls, where this story ends.

Where I Was That Day

Every year we have the same conversation and it starts with “where were you on September 11?” Then, it is often followed by something like “oh, I also remember where I was when” the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, Princess Diana died, President Kennedy was shot, or Pearl Harbor was attacked, among others. When our world changes it sticks with us.

So, every year I re-tell this story. On September 11, I was in the law library at the UT College of Law preparing for business associations class. As I walked out the library doors I was met by a friend, Ben, he told me that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center (“WTC”). We talked about it for a moment – I asked if it was an accident and he said, no, they think it is a terrorist attack. I wasn’t sure what to say.

I made my way to the cafeteria where other students were gathered around a tiny television. We all stood in silence as we watched the news on NBC. We all watched WTC Tower 2 collapse. People cried, gasped, and covered their faces.

Shortly after I walked away from the group to go to class. As I walked to the lecture hall in rear of the first floor I remember hearing people announce that their classes had been cancelled. I wondered if mine would be cancelled as well.

I took my assigned seat in business associations and waited. My professor, a great lady and a scholar, took the podium and she said something that remains with me today. She told us that we would have class. Not because she was uncaring, disrespectful, or heartless. No, quite the opposite.

She lost family members in the terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. She told us that, yes, we will have class. We will go on with our day and “we will not let terrorists disrupt our lives” and stop us from living because “that is what they want us to do.” They want to paralyze us with fear.

We had class.

I think about my professor and what she told us, or at least how I remember it, every year on this day. We may not be able to stop or prevent terror, but we can prevent it from stopping us. It is good and necessary to honor the lost and to thank the heroes of that day. But what is most important is that we continue to LIVE. Live in spite of our loss, live for those that are gone, and live without fear.

But the Lord is faithful and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians. 3:3 (NIV).

The Niagara Peninsula in Pictures

The second stop on my Canadian adventure was Niagara-on-the-Lake, about an hour and a half drive from Toronto along the Queen Elizabeth Way (the “QEW”). It is a lovely drive and worth a stop of its own. If only I had known. So, head west from the big city and be sure to veer off of the QEW and enjoy the view.

The country side of the peninsula is littered with scenic vineyards and gorgeous views. They don’t call it the Niagara Peninsula Wine Country for no reason. This is the De Sousa Wine Cellars Vineyard in Beamsville, Ontario.

At the Tawse Winery, 2010/2011 winery of the year, you can get a glimpse of the Toronto skyline on a clear day across the lake. It is breath-taking.

While at the Tawse Winery I met a kind gentleman named Dieter. Dieter met me at the door and gave me an interesting and enlightening tour of the winery. The picture on the left shows the gravity fed wine processing system, which is “based on the natural slope and contours of our property. The use of gravity as opposed to pumps allows the wine to move gently from pressing to bottling with minimum manipulation.” Fascinating stuff.

Dieter is also an interesting fellow. I told him that I was living in FW and he assured me that he knows all about FW. How, you say? He worked for GM, retired early, and took up the wine business with Tawse. My new friend Dieter is living the dream. I only spent little bit of time with him and it was clear that he is a happy guy. There is a lot to be said for doing what you love!

Tawse is a gorgeous place, whether you drink the wine or not.

This is the Tawse celler. One interesting fact I learned is that the red markings on the barrels that appears to be from the wine bleed-through is not. No, some poor wine intern has to go around and use the grape scraps to paint the center ring of all the barrels so that they will look neat rather than show the stains from samplings. Poor kid. Also, for the Celiacs out there that are wine drinkers – the wineries I visited make their wine in brand new barrels, not used ones. So, you do not have to worry about cross-contamination from used barrels. How is that for cheers to you!

Another lesson I learned on this trip was that grapes are fun. Fun to photograph, that is. I thought it would be boring, even though I love a farmer’s market. I am glad I tested my assumption and found I was wrong. The way the light moves through and around the grapes and leaves is really interesting and challenging to catch. And, they are pretty, especially the dark grapes – the purple on the green is lovely.

The drive from Toronto the Niagara-on-the-Lake should have taken an hour and a half. Lucky for me it took 3 hours. Three hours of peaceful driving, gorgeous views, and visiting. This area is really a must-see in Ontario. Also, it is impossible to get lost in (there are maps everywhere and great signage) and the people are super friendly and generous with recommendations for where to go next or where to have lunch. All you need is time, a car, and a camera.

Toronto, Day 2

So, what do I do before going on a walking tour? I walk. My day 2 in Toronto can be summarized easily – “walking around like my hair was on fire.”

I woke up got my Bible time in, had a LaraBar, and I was on the street. I enjoy a city in the morning. So I wandered east from the hotel along the harbor and then turned north in search of the St. Lawrence Market. The St. Lawrence Market is a large daily market that features a farmer’s market on Saturdays and an antique market on Sundays. It is in an old brick building surrounded by old and new construction.

The market was super lively with shoppers. Parents with children sifting through the produce and fruit for the best stuff. Elderly folks getting their flowers for the week. City dwellers pulling their small grocery carts with them so they can cart their loot home. Tourists, of course, taking pictures and admiring the fruit of the nearby farms and local vendors. I bought a container of fresh blueberries and finished them off as I walked the market. It was a lovely start to the day.

I started walking west to meet the walking tour group. It was a great stroll as I walked from the old part of town toward the areas were most new buildings have been constructed. It is interesting to see the new and slick rising up next to the old and grand. I found my meeting location – Ray Thomson Hall – ahead of schedule. So I decided to have some tea and admire the Ritz Carlton next door. The lobby was a great place for a pit stop and a photo opp featuring the freshly placed flowers adorning the gratuitous lobby furniture. Pretty.

The architecture tour was great. The tour was led by a volunteer who had been a banker in his former life and since his retirement he volunteers as a tour guide. I immediately liked him, he and his wife have spent time at Mount Rogers near my home in Virginia. It is a small world, after all. The tour group was small – me and my new friend David from Kenya. David has been in Toronto for 4 months. He and his wife, both architects, moved there from Africa. Super interesting.

The tour was specifically about contemporary buildings but the guide was also knowledgeable about the older buildings as well. So, we got the best of both worlds. We saw the TIFF building that is home to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Princess of Wales Theatre named in honor of Princess Diana and featuring beautiful murals by Frank Stella, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts specially designed to insulate the building from the city noise and subway, and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) designed by Frank Gehry and featuring a Henry Moore sculpture at the front doors. All the buildings were stunning in their own right.

We also stopped at the Umbra Concept Store on John Street. Umbra is a popular maker of household items that started in Toronto and now sells to companies the world around (including Bed Bath & Beyond). The concept store on John St. is the only place you can buy straight from Umbra. As the guide described the unique pink plastic facade of the building a striking gentleman came out of the store to greet us. Paul, the owner of Umbra who works at the concept store every other Saturday, introduced himself and gave the most wonderful talk about Toronto. Frankly, if I were a development person for the city I would hire him to do my marketing. After he stopped talking about the good things about Toronto I felt persuaded to move to Toronto immediately (my Daddy does not approve of this plan because Toronto is “not in the U.S.”). Paul is good. Paul was also kind enough to give David and me $25 gift cards to Umbra. After the tour, David and I headed to Umbra to get free stuff (of course I went over my gift amount . . . but wasn’t that the idea?).

As for old buildings on the tour, we saw the William Barber Building built in 1880 featuring “Toronto Brick”, which is yellow in color and everywhere in old Toronto. The Barber building was once a Whitewear underwear factory, which I thought was neat. We saw The Wesley Building on Queen Street West. The Methodist Church built this building and named it for the denomination’s founder John Wesley. The building is covered with Gothic detail. It is gorgeous.

The tour ended at the super cool and contemporary Ontario School of Art and Design with its black and white aluminum wing that is supported by giant multicolored pillars meant to resemble pencils. Very cool.

After the tour and my shopping excursion I stopped at a small Vietnamese restaurant called Ginger (recommended by the ladies at Umbra) for lunch and plotted my next move. By plotting I mean figuring out the quickest way to get back to the hotel to lay down. I was exhausted. I returned to the room did some reading and made a call to Daisy’s Aunt, Aunt Sharon, who lives in Toronto. Aunt Sharon was kind enough to give me her afternoon. So, after a rest I met her on the waterfront and we explored the Museum of Inuit Art, where I learned that Eskimo is an offensive term for the Inuit people outside of Alaska. Note to self. The art was gorgeous, carving in bone, tusk, and stone along with wall hangings, and basket weaving. If you have an opportunity to explore Inuit art, do it. It is my new favorite.

Next, we wandered through the international market where I scored a gray pashmina for $7 and now regret not getting the black cashmere one for $8. I hate when I do that to myself. Aunt Sharon found the perfect beach top to accompany her on her trip to the Carolina coast. Everybody wins!

We then settled in for people watching, great conversation, and dinner with a view. It took a couple of tries and a great deal of much appreciated patience from Aunt Sharon but we found a restaurant that could work my diet. The Pier 4 Restaurant served us some excellent orange roughy with a scallop and a beautiful view of the sunset and moon rise on the lake.

Aunt Sharon saw me off at the parking garage where she left her ride. She was lovely company.

I went up to the fancy Westin rooftop restaurant and had a decaf cappuccino and looked at Toronto at night. I like it there. It is a great city and I left plenty to see and do undone (like go up in the CN Tower, yes, I skipped it, don’t judge), so there will be a next time.