Monday, July 30, 2007

Get Your Licks on Weekend 66

deer lick guitar licks
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Gallery Night: What a reminder that we have some amazing talent right here in Milwaukee, because we spent 90% of our Gallery Night time at the fifth annual Made in Milwaukee show, this time on the second floor of the Dye House in the third ward. Before going there, we stopped into Tory Folliard, (since that gallery was right there, across the street from the free parking in the Third Ward Parking structure -- why anybody would pay $10 to pay down the street is anybody's guess). I was taken with some work from Mary Jones, and her everyday subject matter made arresting by some kind of one and two dimensional treatments. There was also some lovely, glowing stuff from a painter by the name of William Nichols, whose forest scenery was wonderfully glowing. But you know what? There was one rather large piece with a price tag of $24K, and I didn't see that high a price on works by the wonderful Tom Uttech, whose incredible forest scenery I drank in the last time I was in Folliard and was delighted to see a few months later in the MAM. And then we walked across the street to Made in Milwaukee, and saw a mix of downright cheap art from the locals, the majority of which didn't even break three digits. Frankly, I know they don't have big names yet, but a few of the Made in Milwaukee folks are seriously underpricing themselves (then again, some are right on with pricing). A lot was being created right then and there.Much of it was stuff I expected to see at Art v. Craft, but almost all of it gave me pause to ponder and stare at. The stuff at Folliard was interesting, the stuff at the Dye house was downright intriguing.

The whole Dye House building was worth our time. Sprout has Kiss and AC/DC t-shirts for infants (as well as wonderfully educational toys), and there's a terrific photography gallery that deals prints I didn't know could still be had, especially here in Milwaukee: the green eyed algerian girl from National Geographic, a still of the Beatles swimming in a pool, Jack and Jackie on Inaugeration Night, photos that absent of the fame of their subject matter were still brilliantly composed and a delight to look at. Wow, here in Milwaukee.

And upstairs, at the Made in Milwaukee, it was also a benefit for Camp Heartland, and Testa Rosa played a set of ethereal pop that brought to mind the Cocteau Twins with a rhythm section. Hungry children prevented us from catching the fashion show, but enough hip models strolling about hinted that the Fashion Ninja was hard at work. Dinner ended up being at the Ale House, who served us an outstand fish fry and one tasty cheeseburger.

Farmer's market Saturday morning: a friend was having a crawfish boil in the afternoon and the standard "What can I bring" query was answered with "Corn!" Get this -- either I was too late at the South Shore market and they sold out, or there was no corn to be had! Bummer. Right now, though, get out your zucchini recipies, because its coming in with a venegance this year. Also big right now: beets. I make this pink cream soup that features beets. Unfortunately, while it’s the pretties pink soup you ever saw, I have very few friends who like it. So if you like cream of beet soup, let me know. I love to make it, but I don't have room in the freezer for too much.

Saturday night: after an afternoon of crawfish gnawing, I settled the kids in and bounced over to Points East for an all-too-rare appearance from The Mighty Deer Lick, and I just can't get sick of them. Same old songs, but (and maybe this is because they don't play out all that often), they just seem fresh every time. Maybe its Dave Deerlick's constant clever stage banter. He mentioned last night that their crowd has grown up and older, so songs like "Dorm Room" don't ring as true (more like annoying memory), but this married mother of two who drives a late-model car is still laughing, still headbanging, still hollering along to the chorus of "Chopped Liver." While most people my age care not to admit this, many of us, like the Deer Lick, have aged but not necessarily matured. Let's just say they've/we've developed a nice punk patina, if you will.

Spotted in the crowd, Flickr/Web denizens Czeltic Girl and Chrystalblue. They helped me sort the following band out. Because the Deer Lick went on first (and I nearly missed them, putting the kiddos to bed), they weren't the headliners. That title went to Chicago visitors Frisbie. Both the mayor of Czelistan and I were yawning from our exhaustion from the week, but our spotting of the Cutest Amplifier Ever made us stay to hear what kind of sounds were going to come out of it. And of course, the line that went into the jack marked simply "instrument" led to a guitar held by the Cutest Boy ever. Sort of. These guys were Pure Pop for Now People, to borrow Nick Lowe's album title. Fundamentally, I liked them, but there's a few things about them I'd change (and of course, my changes would probably negate all the buzz they seem to be getting from the alternative press). First off, lose the ties. It's so New Wave, and they're already so pop they don't need to run the new wave in your face. The songs are infectious, and almost dangerous, but you look at them in their silk ties and the danger slips away. Second, lose the eyeliner. I shouldn't even have to explain why: this picture of their bass player looking like a cross between a serial killer and my high school chemistry teacher should tell you everything you need to know as to why they need to lose the eyeliner. Finally, I hate to say this, because I bet he's a nice guy and all and a fine keyboardist to boot, but lose the keyboardist. All it adds is hokeyness: the effects it frosts Frisbie's songs with could be done with the capable hands of the two guitarists, their effects boxes, and their cute amplifier. This was really driven home to me during a keyboard "jam" mid-set. It went on and on and on, and the next thing I knew, I felt like I was at Summerfest, listening to some mid-level band on the Miller Lite stage. Frisbie has great pop sensibilities, but I like my rock and roll to be at least a touch dangerous, and if they just lose these three things, they will be dangerously popmatic indeed.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Everybody loves swingin' with my baby

swingin' in a zoot suit
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The storm was threatening, but I checked the calendar and last night was the only night I saw that I would be able to see the wonderful Swing-O-Matics this year, so I decided to risk it. Besides, the last time I went to Boerner Botanical Gardens, we were chased out by a ominous thunderstorm and I kicked myself for not having my camera with me to shoot it with the beautiful foregrounds the gardens provide. So I loaded up the car, and arrived in time for a short second set.

The "stage" at Boerner has finally moved to what looks like the permanent spot. It used to be in this northern clearing, and it moved to south of the main entry while construction on the new pavilion was taking place. That was weird those two years: the band would be at the top of this hill, with the audience drifting downward the slope. Now that the new pavilion is up and functioning, the concerts in the gardens stage is just northwest of it, underneath this curvy tent thing that looks cool, but apparently presents enough of a tripping risk that they have to chain off a 15-20 foot radius of the stage. Boo hiss. At first I couldn't figure out why -- it's not like they're featuring Christina Aguilera and they need to ensure secuirty. But the tent poles and reinforcement lines stick out way too far, and I'm sure some insurance company said, "Tripping Hazard! Rope it off!" And thus it ruins one of the things I loved about Boerner's Concerts in the Gardens (and the whole Milwaukee County Concerts in the Parks series in general) -- it widens the gap between performer and audience and shatters the intimate setting that makes it so special.

Nevertheless, the Swing O Matics were wonderful as usual. Lead singer James Victor, in striped pants (it was way too hot and humid for a full zoot suit) has a delicious tenor that pulls off the Sinatra as well as all the jump swing classics they make look so easy. Generation busting they are: one minute they're doing "There's Good Rockin' Tonight," the next they're doing "Fly Me to the Moon" and the rest of their setlist may have been lifted carefully from Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive. The population on the dance floor/grass bore this out: I saw folks in their 60s-70s and my generation, carefully two-stepping it on the grass, as well as gen x college kids, teenagers, and little boys and girls and toddlers swinging about.

Stella is at a point where she was happy to hang on the blanket; Sammy, my little ladies' man, wanted to dance. And on him, this was music where his kung-fu tai-chi angular moves fits. He wasn't one for cutting in, no, I was his dance partner all night. At one point, he was in my arms, where I could tango and fox trot with him (in that way a loving mom tangos with her almost-four-year-old) and he didn't even want to sit down for the slow songs. I serenaded him in my arms, singing along with Victor to Sammy on the chorus of "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" and suddenly Sammy got defensive. "I am NOT a baby!" he indignantly panted. "I'm a big boy!" No, buddy, I thought as I held him close, you will ALWAYS be My Baby. Even when you're a snotty adolescent embarassed to be seen hugging his mama, (even if she's wearing a Henry Rollins and X Tour shirt like I was last night to go see a swing band!). Even when you're a linebacker on your high school football team, getting your ass kicked by a would-be Deion Sanders. Even when you're on tour with some metal-hardcorepunk-skater-slam band. Even when you're 37 years old, out in your front yard, cutting the grass and wondering if your adjustable rate mortgage is going to shoot up. Sammy, Youse Is My Baby, and that's a fack, jack, a fact as timeless as the Swing-O-Matics and their music.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's a band! It's a product! It's both!

Something else I learned on my summer vacation: The Mighty Deer Lick isn't just the name of a band. It's a product! I didn't know that deer licks had brand names. This city girl just thought you just go over to Ace Hardware or something and pick up two of those giant blocks of salt: one for your water softener, and one to lure the deer out of the garden. And get this: The Mighty Deer Lick comes in a variety of flavors, unlike their competitors.If you go to their site, you will learn that The Mighty Deer Lick is the deer lick of choice for environmentalists and wildlife lovers alike, because (grammatical errors theirs, not mine):
Buyers, beware of companies who are marketing a granular vitamin mineral mixture for wild deer! These products were designed for a quick profit. They are out-dated and nothing more than high/phos dairy mineral that retails for around 20 cents a pound, in 50 lb. bags at your local farm stores. We manufactured and sold this product in the 1970’s and early 80’s. High/phos dairy mineral works well in deer pens when used in mineral feeders. But you would pay like hell to get a wild, mature whitetail to stick his head in one. The problem with dairy mineral is that the salt leaches away when it rains and the product becomes unpalatable to deer. This is why mineral blocks are so popular with large ranchers and farmers. Its really a no brainer!

And besides, as the site points out, "Deer continue to use a Mighty Deer salt licksite, both day and night, and this supplies your area with continuous fresh deer scent." And goodness knows even though I could order Glade "Fresh Deer Scent" Plug-Ins by the gross for my home, there's nothing like real fresh deer scent wafting through the cabin for that "Back to Nature" feeling.
We learned of this line of products a few weeks back when we were at the IGA in Crystal Falls, MI, during our vacation picking up a few racks of ribs and locally cured bacon. Left the camera back at the cabin for this run, which is why I don't have pictures. (note to self: never leave home without it.) Anyway, we almost bought an Sweet Apple flavoured Mighty Deer Lick, just to have, except everybody else we share the cabin with are Illinois folks who know nothing of Dave Reinholdt and his smartass crew of quasirural punks. They wouldn't have gotten it. They would have been, "The Mighty Deer Lick. So what. We don't have a deer problem here." And I would have been humming "Port-O-Let" to myself and going, "Well, there's this band in Milwaukee that, I …. No I don't have any of their stuff on my Ipod …. Well they do these songs that …. Oh fuck it." Then again, I could have pointed out that The Mighty Deer Lick corporation was established not 20 miles away from our cabin, and we should help support the local economy by patronizing this locally-owned business and, further, a fellow alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Bob Jones, the Pioneer of Antler Research, was in on its development and … oh fuck it.

Do I need to tell you where I'll be Saturday night? Of course I'll be at Points East to see The Mighty Deer Lick (uh, the band.)

On the other end of the continuum, its time again for high art, as Gallery Night is this Friday night. The Coalition of Photographic Arts annual juried show is at the Walkers Point Center for the Arts, and the Milwaukee Art Museum is giving this Gallery Night the local angle that's called for by hosting the Third Annual Milwaukee Artist Marketplace on Saturday afternoon. Arts collectives, including the Bay View Arts Guild and the Riverwest Artists Association will be showing their members' works, and these two alone always guarantee an interesting, quality show. I'll probably hover around the Third Ward for Gallery Night with the kids.

I've not had a chance to get out to many of the Milwaukee County (Free) Concerts in the Parks series, but I'm making a point of doing so Thursday. At Boerner Botanical Gardens, The Swing-O-Matics will be playing. They are simply terrific. They suit up in genuine zoot suits, break out the horns and with precision put out wonderful jump swing, big band, and throw in a little Sinatra to keep us happy. For their size, (a little over a half dozen of them), they pull off a sound worthy of the Duke himself. They're frightfully underrated. Saw them first a few years back at Wisconsin Avenue Park in 'Tosa and have been a fan ever since. So, off to the well-maintained gardens of Boerner I go: there appears to be no damage to the beautiful flowers from wildlife eating them, and I bet if I looked hard enough off the manicured trails, I'll find the explanation for such in the form of Sweet Sugar flavoured Mighty Deer Licks.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Guess I Picked the Wrong Day to Give Up Advil

joann of the barrettes
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
What a mixed up day Saturday was. From beginning to end.

It started out lovely: Stella and I woke up, fresh from our Harry Potter experience, and grabbing Sammy to tag along, trundled over to South Shore Park for the farmers' market. I downed a cup of Stone Creek Coffee, followed by another cup from Sven's Café (making their debut at this farmer's market) when I forgot that neither Stone Creek nor Sven are known for their weak coffee and POW! I was wired. We picked up some bread and goodies, played at the playground for a bit, visited Stella's favorite tree and zoomed home. I'd hoped to get a bike ride in when I saw that for the first time ever, I had a flat front tire and that just started my whole bad mood. (Faulty valve finally gave out, the boys at Wheel & Sprocket fixed it up and doctored up the works and told me assuredly -- because this is my third flat in as many weeks -- "I'll be surprised if THIS one goes flat." We shall see, gentlemen, we shall see.) Bike ride was good, did my north shore route and came home and I'm still wired. Thank you Sven. Then I'm dealing with a series of phone calls and emails from a variety of subjects and issues that basically, without divulging personal business here, were a series of stress inducers for me, and in a fit of coffee-fueled, pre-menopausal rage custom-made for extra-strength Motrin, I probably alienated a few friends and business associates. If there was ever a night I needed no-wave punk from some smart and uppity rollersk8r grrls, this was it.

But first, I had to wait while Brian went with Darrell "Da Brainz" Martin to the Zappa plays Zappa show at the rave. Brian's a lifelong Zappa fan. I pretty much only know the hits, am familiar with his wit and intelligence, and did a cover of "I'm the Slime" with Loblolly for a tribute record produced by Jeff Hamilton and Paul Kneevers at the old Junkyard Studio which never saw the light of day (hey, whatever happened to this, guys?). I'm also happy to pass on my knowledge, based on personal experience, that "Return of the Son of Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar" is a very good CD to put on during 2nd stage labor to endure that part when its too early to put in the epidural but you need something more complicated than sappy new age music to help you concentrate on how you're going to survive gut-wrenching contractions. But Brian's the Zappa head, and he needed a night out too. He files this report: Dweezil dug deep into the catalouge and had a crew of relative younguns to play his dad's music. A few times during the show they showed and played along with video of FZ himself, Brian says this was kind of odd. Sort of like that experiement they did with Elvis and that reunion show they did with the old backup bands and the Jordanaires playing "with" Elvis on a video monitor. Anyway, Brian saw all the Zappa-heads he expected to see there: Frank Chandik, Whispering Jeff, etc. and all were pleased with the performance. There were plenty of free tickets given out to ensure a packed house. (Note to places like Vnuks: this is a tested and true strategy for a show that didn't initially blow you away with ticket sales. Flood the market with free tickets. It will ensure that the artist doesn't leave with Milwaukee -- and your club -- as an unhip place, thus spreading the word about. It's money you'd never have gotten at the door anyway, and now at least your bar till might make up for the door money you lost on a poor-selling show. Turns a lose situation into a winner. Try it next time Candye Kane comes to down, Dave.) While Brian was gone I got all domestic and did laundry, loaded the dishwasher, and picked up. Almost vacumed. Yes, I was grouchy and teed off and ready for the Barrettes.

Yes, the Barrettes pretty much justified the buzz about them. Four women, all of whom have a terrificly smug (and smug looks good on them) confidence. Very British early girlpunk influences popped in my head: picture the Raincoats or the Slits but with much more musical competence and frankly, more cohesive songwriting skills, but with the hard-driving energy of that same era's X-Ray Spex, with touches of Gang of Four funkieness, albeit with a sense of humor. The lower end is supplied by a cello rather than a bass which brought to mind Rasputina not in aesthetics but in attitude -- they don't have Melora Creager's midnight-ghosts-in-the-heartland roots. But the cello is another piece of evidence (besides the electronic ukeleles and miked melodica) that this band knows what they need to do to distinguish themselves, and use these instruments as tools -- not as crutches just to be different -- to explore their songs in places you normally wouldn't expect the music to take them. Critter on cello slides not only up and down the neck, she fingers all around and behind, all with a look on her face that is fully aware that she's in a rock band, not an orchestra, and a smartass rock band at that. Joolz on the drums is ferocious and authoratative, but of course, the frontwomen of this band, founders Joann Riedl and Joey are the focus points, clad in resale-shop mini skirts and badass star studded boots. They trade off vocals and attitudes, from brashly snotty to earthly friendly with their audience, which was clearly dominated by their tighly knit clique of fans.

joey of the barrettes
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The set was, however, disappointingly short. Granted, I missed the first couple of songs, but this was a CD release bash and I expected them to have a longer set. Toward the end, they toyed with playing a new song, made ironic excuses for its draft state and actually began playing it, but abruptly stopped and went into their planned set-closing cover. Ah, they might as well have played it: they had this crowd in the palm of their hand and could have read them the phone book to adoring cheers. But instead they rev up the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" with a raw energy that Susanna Hoffs herself had in the early days and I suspect, wishes she still had. Seemingly at the last minute at the instrumental break, Riedl whipped out the melodica again and spat out that intro melody line in a wonderfully atonal way. Short set or not, they accomplished what any good band should -- left me wanting more. I gladly dropped $5 on the CD, and decided to check out the next band, as I had already given the doorman $7.

I need to give Juniper Tar a fresh viewing on a different night. Their sound -- (and this is a compliment, not a snide indie insult) is sort of a psychedelic heartland answer to the question: What if John Cougar Mellencamp was a stoner? They had these kinds of wistful, earnest, guitar-driven songs that would sound great riding shotgun in a car (not driving), barrelling down I-57 or I-65 (as in, in Illinois or Indiana, not Wisconsin) on a windy summer day, staring out the open window at the cornfields zipping by, being blinded by sunlight. They opened their set with a flawless acapella four-part harmony tune, and then drifted into some organic psychedelia that exploded into hard driving American shoegazing emo. So in theory, I should have loved them. But they had a few things working against them this night, two of which were beyond their control. 1) Between my rollercoaster of a stressed out day punctuated by a caffeine headache that had just kicked in, and the fact that they were preceeded by some hardass broads whose stage presence was knowingly cynical, (and I had Grandfather of Cynical, FZ on the brain), I was absolutely in no mood for the most earnestly sincere bunch of boys I've seen on a Milwaukee stage in a long time. This was a bad booking. If I had to put a guy band after the Barrettes, I'd have opted, for, say, The Mighty Deer Lick (who will be at Points East this coming weekend.) Not these guys. 2) They weren't being mixed well. This took me a long time to figure out, because I'd spotted local musician/writer Blaine Schultz in the audience, who'd stopped in to catch Juniper Tar after he himself played a private party with his roots rock band, Deadman's Shoes. I told Schultz, "These guys are putting me to sleep," and he advised me to stick around: "They'll grow on you," he said, and if I've learned anything in this town, its when Blaine Schultz says to give a band a chance, it's worth your time and caffeine to do exactly that. So I grabbed myself a hair-of-the-dog diet coke, listened carefully, and realized I couldn't hear the guitar player for shit.

And that's a problem when your formula is as follows: drift gently into your song(s) with a building, anticipatory coagulation, crash into your emotive, sweet, almost folksy verse, chorus (throw in a bridge now and again) and verse, then instrumentalize your chorus with a slowly building creshendo that lands gently standing on your sweet verse for one more line to taper off. This works when either when you don't do this on practically EVERY SONG or when your intense instrumental build up (it's too sweet and emo to be raveup) includes an equally compelling instumental run. And that's why we can blame the sound man for this. I saw the guitarist exploring his entire fretboard, I saw the guitarist aiming for his pedals and his amp, tweaking his feedback and his edges, I saw him intently interacting with the bass player to ensure a cohesive sound rather than a pointless jam. But I couldn't hear him for shit.

So yeah, I need to see these guys again then they're mixed better, and the mix of bands is more cohesive, and not at a state where I would sell my grandmother off to the gypsies for 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. Rusnak out.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

My Patron Saint, and the Wizardry of Reading

the line begins
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Last night at the Central Library downtown I pretty much couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I pulled up. I know I'm late for this party, and I'm not going to be writing anything original on this topic, but god bless JK Rowling for making reading the coolest thing for kids. The Milwaukee Public Library was the place to be for the release of the latest Harry Potter book. It was a totally free affair (except for buying the book, which I was happy to do -- Rowling is now probably the richest woman on the planet and that's fine with me!) and they did it right. Every section of the library had a theme related to Hogwarts somewhere, from the outside's magical lighting scheme to rooms where people could make potions (sponsored by Discovery World) to a place where you could meet a real live owl, (the audobon society chipped in here), to a Mad Science show. We ran into kids from Stella's school, and every parent I saw there was only too happy to let their kid stay up tll midnight to savor the excitement.

Again, I'm not the first parent to write this, but I nearly had a lump in my throat. It's cool to be a reader! It's "in" (yes, Esme Squalor, it is) to be a geek! What a thrill for a nerd mom like me to see their kid voraciously devouring a book, to see that the library, the real library, was the place to be on a Friday night. And it reminded me of what a beautifully grand library we have. The old book stacks, preserved behind glass, housed the antique collection. (Every stack had this wonderful brass endpiece with the MPL logo from the old days blazed across it. The front lobby chandelier could have come smack out of the Pfister. It was just a great environment.

Stella had her fortune told by a psychic who pretty much nailed her personality, and had good words for her future: after the psychic pointed out her strengths, she advised her she would have a great future and would be able to do anything she wanted to, if she were careful to use her strengths and be patient (something Stella has a particular challenge with). I thanked the psychic profusely, because it seemed to have quite an effect on her.

Earlier I absolutely had to check out my Patron Saint's Parish's festival. St Veronica puts on one of the bigger festivals. Still not exactly St Greg or St Rita's, it was a classic church festival. Good food and beer selection -- you could even get a New Glarus Spotted Cow here. Interesting rummage sale too. St V'ron's is probably the hippest South Side parish, and it shows.

Brian had checked it out the day before, and he said there was some cover band that pretty much illustrates why we normally don't like cover bands. They did this version of "Baba O Reilly" where you could tell that their heart wasn't in it. It was more of a "well this is a Classic Hit, and we know the chords, so here goes."

This is opposed to the Do Wop Daddies, a great little cover band we saw that pretty much is loyal to their roots. I'm actually not a huge do-wop fan, but they were good at what they did, and they did it with feeling and sincerity, which goes a long way in my book. So does any band that can be this loyal to their color scheme. St Vron had a handful of rides, and the merry-go-round music actually was funny: it was basically a collection of theme music from 60s TV shows. So while i'm watching Sammy go round and round, I'm hearing "Theme from Perry Mason" and the juxtaposition was just hilarious.

Brian's off tonight to see Zappa play Zappa, and he'll come home for a changing of the guard, while I run and see the Bulletts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Getting Over Milwaukee

So I ran into my drummer in Loblolly, Andy Pagel today, and he's told me he's drumming for yet another band. For the life of me, I can't remember the band's name, but Andy's a great drummer and that's good enough for me. They're playing at Long Wong's on Bluemound Road. And that's good enough for me too. Paul at Long Wong's runs a great Chinese (take that, Yi!) American Sports Bar, and we've had a party hosted and catered by him and I can't say enough good things about how it all went. So I'm happy to throw some cover money both Paul and Andy's way, even if it turns out I don't like the music. But I'll check it out anyway just because Andy wouldn't waste time on something that completely sucks. And did I mention that Paul makes a terrific egg roll? Again, take that, Yi.

(I'm really resisting discussing Yi and the Bucks and his and his agent's backpedaling and making excuses and all that crap. But I can't help it. Fine. Go back to the CBA and play there. We have plenty of Asian hoops fans here, and, and, and, Get Over Yourself! You weren't the top draft pick. Who do you think you are, Smitty Werbenmanjensen? He was number one!. You are number six! That's right, if we'd gotten the top draft pick like we deserved to with our crap year, do you think we would have picked you?!?!? Please. Now quit all this "I want a city with a large Asian population" like we've only got three Chinese guys in the whole state, and only a Wong's Wok for a restaurant, get your ass over to Long Wong's, and have Paul whip you up some of his terrific Singapore Noodles while you wait for the ink on your green card to dry. Oh, and don't forget that nobody in the NBA respects an unproven prima donna.)

Whew. That was cathartic.

OK, after a set with Bobby whoever Andy is playing with, I've got to race home because I think the Harry Potter release is Friday night at midnight as well, and now I've got a kid who's into it. Off to Schwartz' we will go. I love that I'm raising this kind of kid. We're going to camp in line for a book. The first time I ever
camped in line for anything was for Rolling Stones tickets.

Saurday, according to everybody in town, the place to be is the Mad Planet for the Barrettes, an all girl group with cellos in the lineup and rollergirls in the lineage. Also on the bill is a band called Big Fun. Do you suppose they're named for the band in that black comedy "Heathers". You know, the one that Martha Dumptruck sports a t-shirt for?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Last Day of Vacation

Another bummer
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
And I'm spending it just hanging out and chilling. Up and down weekend.

Saturday morning, after Blue Oyster Cult, I racked myself out of bed and joined the crew at Bucketworks to move. It went well. Plenty of volunteers seemed to show up just as us early birds were running out of gas. It was pretty funky, just rolling carts two blocks down the street, while a big truck was being loaded with the big stuff. The new location -- in the old Swingles Furniture Warehouse/Showroom -- is exciting, and its also a chance for Bucketworks to reposition itself as not only the "health and fitness club for the brain" but as a true arts and small business incubator. This old cynic hasn't volunteered for a lot lately; but this effort somehow touched me to get my rumless daiquiri soaked head out of bed and do something, and I'm glad I did.

I came home with heels ready to explode from the planta fasciatis I suffer from, so I dunked them in an ice bath, and rested up for the evening. The "evening" of course being the South Shore Water Frolics -- our friend Elaine lives a block away and always throws a terrific pre-fireworks soirree at her place. The South Shore fireworks were the best I've seen all summer. (Humbolt Park's 4th of July were disappointing, Summerfest's opening went on long and unvarious, and I wasn't in town for the US Bank show). This was another in a series of plain ol' good vibe events this summer. The South Shore Frolics are a lovely neighborhood festival populated by "the other east side"'s residents, making for a small town feel in the midst of the city. Stella got over her fear of big fireworks noises, and Sammy -- going a mile a minute worked himself into a deep sleep by the time we got home.

Sunday, while F/i rehearsed (oh yeah, news flash, they've scheduled a gig! They're playing for the first time since, since, well at least since Stella was born, August 4 at the Miramar! And it will be the first time since the early 90s Rick Franecki has played out with them on a stage. He's tanned, rested and ready. ) I took the kids to the South Shore Art festival as part of the frolics, and spent money. It's a darn good art/craft fair, I would say right up there with the Morning Glory itself. (I was out of town for Art Vs. Craft, so I can't tell you where it placed on that scale). But I grabbed several business cards, it was a beautiful day, and finally, a festival where the inflatable jumpy rides were reasonably priced, so i could let the kids go wild.

After they crashed, I grabbed my acoustic guitar and headed over to the Stepping Stone on South Howell for Paul Cotter's open stage. I know I could have borrowed an acoustic there, but if I didn't walk in with my own, I would have much easier been able to say "Ah, I'm not singing tonight." So I did. I wasn't all that great, but at least I know what I need to work on. Singing and accompanying one's self solo acoustically is totally different than fronting a punk band, I'll tell you. A bit out of my comfort zone, but you don't grow by staying in your zone, and every time I've ventured out it's done me some good. I had to follow a terrific Dan Smars and his buddy, when I realized that Neil Young's "Helpless" is the same song as Dylan's "Knockin on Heaven's Door." It's nice to know we live in a world where Young and Dylan have better things to do that sue each other.

So, it's Monday. The last day of Vacay, like I said. I went for a bike ride, and if getting caught in a light rain didn't bring me down (it didn't, actually), seeing this sign again did. Van Beck's was a wonderful farm and farm stand that I would hit every weekend last summer. The locally grown produce was always at peak when they displayed it, and the owner had a great connection with a peach farmer in Michigan that resulted in the most perfect peaches I have ever eaten in Wisconsin. They were perfect. Firm, sweet, juicy, squirting peach nectar in your face as you bit in. They were a great mid-bike ride treat; a reqard for climbing east up the hill on College avenue to Pennsylvania.

I don't know why they closed, but they did. Another wonderful local food source bites thedust. I hope it was just that they retired or something. I could do research and find out, but I really don't want to know. I'm just bummed about this. And now I have to get back into daily corporate grind mind by tomorrow.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

This is the Night we riiiiiide -- cos This Ain't the Garden of Eden

OK, clearly a biker bar
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
In theory, no cameras were allowed at Beloit Riverfest, but we learned quickly that wasn't being enforced. Actually, the taking of the tickets wasn't being enforced. We could have walked right in without paying a dime. Cos this was one of those festivals where they'd get you anyway. the kids' rides were expensive, and you coud buy a wristband (for $15 each, even for the little ones!) but the fest started at 5 pm on Friday, they'd only be good that night until 9, and it just didn't seem worth it.

Pity that they said "No Cameras." (What, Cheap Trick doesn't want to be photographed? They were the headliner, we and the standard horde of bikers were there to see Blue Oyster Cult.) The River Park in Beloit is a gorgeous city resource. The view of the Rock River is wonderful, and there are parts of it landscaped beautifully. There were tons of photo ops to show off Beloit's offering, but I was a good girl, following the rules, and didn' have my camera.

Boy, I hate to criticise city festivals, but we've been to ones run by smaller towns and you'd think Beloit could have ratchet this one up. Overall, they've got a great location and they're bringing in the standard county/state fair lineup of bands coming through but, first off, the only beer available was Coors. We just couldn't bring ourselves to drink Coors. So we ended up getting one of those frozen daiquiri things in a souvenier glass for $12 that came with a free refill. Too bad it didn't come with much rum (if any) in it. Then, they have "reserved seating." At an outdoor festival, reserved seating. Reserved seating works in a Marcus Ampetheatre kind of place, but it doesn't work on on outdoor stage with fold up chairs to see Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult.

Beloit River Park has a beautiful children's play area, with apparatus around a boat theme and plenty of climbing to explore, but the kids could only stare at it, because it was closed off. Probably so that you'd have to spend the $$$ to keep them occupied on the inflatable rides (well, that's my cynical explanation) and that was a shame. We wouldn't have spent the extra $$$ already, and this only served to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Overall, for the level of festival this was, it was rather pricey, both for food, admission, and beer. There was a smaller stage that had some mildly interesting local act on it, but that was taken over later in the evening for some kind of American Idol local version.

Blue Oyster Cult opens with "This Aint The Summer of Love" and they're off and running. No Allen Lanier. Lanier seems to tour with them every OTHER year. Rudy Sarzo is sitting in on bass. ("He's played with everybody," Brian fills me in, everybody being Ozzy during the Randy Rhoads years, and rattles off a bunch of metal names, clearly Sarzo has the metal bass cred.) Sarzo musicaly winks at us during his bass solo by pulling off the rip from Stanley Clarke's "School Days". Buck Dharma is holding down all the guitar tonight, and Eric Bloom is filling everything else in. They're all great, but since they're the "opening" band on the bill, they only get 75 minutes to play. The bikers smile knowingly as they crow out the choirboy intro to "The Golden Age of Leather" as the Cheap Trick fans are all "huh?" They remind the Cheap Trick fans who they are by getting ""Burning For You" out of the way early in the set (as they've been tending to do over the last few times we've seen them.) They pop off a few of their more obscure favorites, but not all of mine. No "E.T.I." No "Before the Kiss a Redcap."

But Stella loves "Summer of Love" and by the end of the set, the cowbells in the audience are raised for "Reaper." Besides the anniversary shirt, the big shirt to get this year (which they ran out of my size) is the one with the BOC logo on the back, and the immortal words "More Cowbell" on the front. And then, to Sammy's joy, they do "Godzilla." And then they're done.

We walk around the grounds once more, still looking for something more to this festival and we're not finding it. I'd like to say Summerfest has spoiled us, but again, Sheboygan puts on a better fest and they've half the size of Beloit. Maybe there were better parts and we just didnt' find them.

Earlier in the day we'd driven around the town, looking for a place to catch a bite. It's a sleepy little town, a downtown that has a yuppie district complete with gay bar, artsty shop, and a few bars. We drove past this lovely neon sign for a joint called the 88 tavern, and we had fun debating if it was an old man shot-and-a-beer house, or a pool shark place. Had lunch at a great little spot called the Rock on the River, where the all you can eat fish fry was pretty good, the chicken wings had bite and meat on 'em, and the pesto coated grilled tuna over a salad was quite interesting. (Never would have thought to coat a tuna steak with pesto before, now I will). But that was pretty much it. Beloit seems to have some great local resources, but they're unclear how to exploit them to their best. Blue Oyster Cult drew us in, but somehow the city, unlike Sheboygan, never showed us why we should come back.

Oh, by the way, the tavern turned out to be a biker bar.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Viva La France via Milwaukee

Florida Yard Dog
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Bastille Days really is one of my favorite street-based summer Milwaukee festivals, if not on the short list of favorite Milwaukee summer festivals, period. Maybe it's because they're French and all, but they seem to take it up a notch, the music is better, the food is the best, and the Franco connection seems to ensure a fine wine selection as well. Even the street vendors are great -- I've bought more jewelry, dresses, and other knickknacks at Bastille Days over the years than any other festival. It's got a great musical history with me as well: it's where I saw the amazing Sun Ra and his Arkestra before ol Ra hopped on the mothership and blasted off this planet. It's where I saw that infamous Oil Tasters and Haskels reunion, and being a new Milwaukeean at the time, understood what the fuss was about.
We had the kids with us, and before we caught a bit of the Florida Yard Dogs, Marcus Monroe, fire juggler extraordinaire, captivated Sammy (as Sammy loves anything to do with fire). Monroe is a great Gen X/Y street performer with that Jim Rose Sideshow smirk but yet an amazing act. His schtick is simple: he juggles, but he starts out with the standard juggling pins, moves on to machetes, smokes us out with fire sticks, and his master finale is him, on a 6 ft unicycle, juggling knifes attached to torches (He called them a knorches!) while wearing a helmet with a roman candle on top. Cracking jokes along the way, and definitely worth the dollar I dropped in his Tony Danza-adorned bucket. ("If you don't like me," he explains, "Everybody loves Tony Danza, so give him a buck.")

After we ran into Whispering Jeff (another guy you can depend on to be EVERYWHERE), we sat down with the kids for some food and took in the Florida Yard Dogs, some guys who obviously spent some time in Nawleans, built some funky instruments, drank a few beers and said, "Hey guys, let's start a band." They're well named, and they answered the question, "What if a bunch of white guys attempted Cajun music?" Fun stuff. I was particulary happy to see that the accordionist's instrument sported the Milwaukee-based ol' Baldoni imprint. (Hey, what's Ivo doing these days since they closed their Brady street shop?) Stella and her best friend snacked on chicken tenders and the waffle fries were the best darn waffle fries I have ever had -- perfectly crisp, flavorful, but not over or underdone. I had the pecan chicken sandwhich, which overflowed from its bun. Sammy enjoyed a garden variety sausage. We ran into Paul Cotter and eldest daughter Cecelia, fresh from a little girl haircut, enjoying a real crepe that looked delicious, but was too rich for my post-triathlon tastes.

Robin Pluer channels Edith Piaf
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Once again, though, as she continues to do and build upon every year, Robin Pluer summoned the ghost of Edith Piaf and pretty much ruled the main stage, backed up by the amazing Mrs. Fun. Knowing it was a festival stage, she jazzed up the numbers (particular fun was "Jezebel") to facilitate a French street dance, which entralled both my kids (and friend) and the audience as well. She did that stunning rendition of "La Vie En Rose" and pretty much spoke her flawless fluent French all night to introduce her songs and band. It kind of reminded me of seeing Los Straightjackets speak only Spanish, but somehow we all understood every word they said. Same with Pluer -- I don't speak much French, but I knew what she was saying and what she was about.
Pluer pretty much developed this act for Bastille Days, and its grown bigger than both of them -- she now does the Edith Piaf thing in other venues and she's moved from a side stage novelty to the main event stage at the prime time on opening night where she/it belongs. Basking the shadow of the MSOE-constructed Eiffel tower (so much better than that blow up thing, which miraculously enough is still there!), she really is a personification of how well Bastille Days brings a little bit of Paris to Milwaukee every year, as the Strom The Bastille 5K runner go milling about, the grownups drinking their wine, and the kids running about. My Sammy found a "Girlfriend" to dance with all night, and Stella and her Friend had a glorious time dancing -- sometimes jazzy, sometimes ballet. Its a vibe I get a few of the other ethnic festivals, probably because it's truly on the street, and it celebrates a time when the disenfranchised claimed their streets back. There were no bands in particular I came to see. I just knew if I showed up, something good would run by me, and i was right.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Busy Weekend coming up

Tonight begins one of my favorite Milwaukee festivals, Bastille Days. It's a great festival that really stays true to its source, and its in the classy East Town neighborhood. The fabulous Robin Pluer transforms into Edith Piaf, there's French Food everywhere, and its overall a great fest.

Tomorrow, we head out to Beloit to catch Blue Oyster Cult. I've already written and written and linked to my writings on BOC. There's just something about them I can unapolegetically love, and love especially at dippy little county fairs, rather than stadiums or Summerfest. Maybe it's because when i see them there, I feel like we're the local friends and family who've discovered this really good band that nobody can figure out why they're not mega-famous. But they are. Such a dichotomy.

Saturday, Bucketworks is moving and I'm helping and you should too. Food and drink will be provided. Saturday night, that's hard. Might see the Buggs in West Allis, or just relax at the always wonderful South Shore Water Frolics. It's "The Other East Side"'s party in celebration of itself. Sunday morning will feature a terrific art show to boot. And Sunday, the night before the last day of my vacation, I'll stop into the Stepping Stone on South Howell for Paul Cotter's open stage. Warning, I actaully might sing.

I Want The Toughest Candye Alive

For Your Love
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
It's a Wednesday night on my vacation, and I really don't feel like going out, but I remember the fact that whenever Darrell "The Brains" Martin strongly recommends an act, I'm never disappointed. And Martin is probably, at least for the local chapter, President of the Candye Kane Fan Club, so it's off to Vnuk's I go.

Before I begin, maybe I should take this time right here and now to put out a call for somebody -- anybody to teach Dave Vnuk how to promote a show. Because this isn't the first time I've seen an absolutely terrific act in his otherwise wonderful room play to a virtually empty house. Kane herself, in her upbeat, loving way, commented, "Hey, at least I've doubled the size of the crowd here -- from 12 to 25!" Bluesmeisters agree, she's one of the top blueswomen of our time, and only a handful of Milwaukeeans drove down to Cudahy to see what basically turned out to be the White Etta James deliver a performance.

"White Etta James" really doesn't tell the whole story. She's got Etta's spunk, she's got that beautiful twinkle in her eye that Etta has, she's got the clear-as-a-bell voice that can just as easily growl down to the sound of gravel, but she has her own thing going on. She's got a white girl burleque raunchieness topped off by her own admission of dressing like a drag queen that accompainies songs like "All You Can Eat and You Can Eat It All Night" or "Estrogen Bomb" or "200 Pounds of Fun." Thank those years in the porn industry for the balls for that.

Or maybe thank those years for inspiring her to become a sex-friendly, empowering feminist. I think my problem with porn really stems not from the whole "exploitation" issue (we all exploit ourselves somehow, someway), it's more that a lot of porn leaves men walking away with the wrong lesson about women's sexuality. It sort of gives them permission to think that that's all women want, just a good hard fuck, no being nice, no giving a crap, no follow up, none of that. No, Candye answers that with an old burlesque number called "For Your Love" in which she agrees to be just about any old fantasy "... for your love." Not money, guys. Not for a ride in your godddamn sports car. Not for some godawful dimonds some african kid got his fingers chopped off for. The refrain of the song, sung over and over and over (because maybe people have to be clubbed over the head with the issue) is for your love. OK, she's mentioned that she's been singing the blues for over 20 years, but the press always zeroes in on her past in the adult film world. To wit:
"It's frustrating," admits Kane, a self-described "sex-positive feminist" and an activist for the disenfranchised. "I've been making records for 20 years, and the press magnifies the three or four years I spent in adult entertainment, or that I can play the piano with my boobs."

Fair enough. But I'll still argue her years there, as well as her years in the L.A. underground scene hanging with folks smack out of Spheeris' first Decline of Western Civilization film, shaped what she is today, an outspoken, bawdy, self-assured talent who found a home in the blues after the country powers that be dropped her because she wasn't pure as the driven snow (or at least publicly so).

But she still loves that Americana and certainly deserves her place among blues compilations that include her heroines like Bessie Smith, Etta James, Janis, etc. Her ability to attract top-knotch players, both to tour, and to guest with her on her latest CD, "Guitarred and Feathered" is obviously rooted in her vocal talent and stage approach. She's a joy to go see. She's probably the sweetest diva I've ever seen, truly appreciative of her audience, and a marvelous storytelller with exquisite timing and a dry delivery that gets moistened up with that smile and twinkle in her eye to punctuate a point.

Oh, and she's fat. And running with it. I debated putting this entry on my weightloss blog (second time this week I couldn't decide where an entry should be) but she knows it, she runs with it, she writes songs about it, and best of all, they're not whiny, "I'm fat and it's ruining my life" songs, but empowering, "You don't know what you're missing" anthems for the full figured girls and the women and men who love us/them. She says on her website she's openly bisexual, but she kind of skirted that issue last night, dedicating a song about that crazy little girl who flashes the band to the guys in her band. I took a look at the audience, my radar said she was probably right to skirt this.

Sometimes I get the impression that she doth protest a little too much about the loving her weight. I don't think she's lost anything in her life over it -- it's given her a platform to spread her message of feminism, love, body acceptance, etc,. -- that wouldn't hold water coming from a supermodel. But she introduced a lot of songs by saying she wrote them when she was down, and she wrote them to pick herself up. And a lot of those songs were about being fat. As a large woman, I know where she's coming from: no matter how much weight I lose, I'm always going to be a big girl -- and that's fine, but given the choice, I would prefer to not be quite this fat and given this culture, I could use a song or two to remind me that it's OK not to be model-thin, despite anything that ass MeMe Roth has to say about it. It's OK, people, it's OK to be fat.

Anyway, the music, the band. First off, it's heartwarming to see Kane's son Evan on the drums. He follows veteran bassman Bill Stuve as he slides all over a fretless bass with a light touch, frilling it up when the music calls for it, confident enough in his ability to not try to upstage Kane. And where she found Heine Anderson, somewhere in Denmark by way of San Diego is anybody's guess. But they're a tight outfit, working more off of whim than setlist, surveying the audience and tailoring the show to fit the crowd. ("Let's do some Etta," I heard Stuve whisper to Kane, and they obliged.) They played for at least 90 minutes, possibly more, and never let up the enthusiasm.

I honestly don't know why she's not a household word. She joked about the coincedence that every time a song of hers gets featured on a show the show gets cancelled. Maybe it's that puritan crap that, like the media, is still hung up on the fact that's she's taken her clothes off on camera a few times. Maybe it's that there's still too many people like MeMe Roth who can't deal with a fat broad who's happy in that skin of hers. Maybe there's too many people who can't deal with "The Toughest Girl Alive" -- a song she belts out with the fierceness that a title like that generates (and saves lives, as she tells a story about just that). She mentioned in introducing the song that more than a few women have told her hearing that song gave them the oomph to keep going, and she's truly touched as she says "If I get remembered for anything, I'd like it to be for writing songs that saved lives." It's a tender, touching moment, from a woman who's not afraid to show us a tender touching side, and you're expecting a sweet little song, but she simulaneous belts and growls out the song's first line and you're reassured that she is indeed everything she says she is. She's a top notch blueswoman, and part of what makes her so is everything else about her -- the history, the grit, the heart on her sleeve.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Triathlon, Part II

It seemed more appropriate to detail the race itself on my weightloss and fitness blog. So go there.

I might put more final thoughts later, but for now, there you go. Kudos again to the Danskin Race people, who really do put on a good event, and from talking to other people, take lessons learned and apply them to improve the event year after year.

But I'm recovering from a massage, from writing about all of it, and looking forward to the Candye Kane show Wednesday at Vnuk's. Good night.

Pre-Triathlon Tidbits

OK. I did the Danskin Triathlon yesterday and I feel great. I was debating whether to discuss this here or in my weightloss blog, but I figure I can write in both places about different aspects.

Numbers: overall finish rank 1526 of 3939, in 1:46:51. But here's the part I'm proud of: my bike was 41:50, that put me at 487 -- I'm in the top 12% of all the bicyclists.

The Run sort of was my weak spot -- 2157 was my rank, at 35:34. The swim was average: 1842 at a time of 18:16. My transitions were slow. Need to work on that.

My rank in my "class" of 45-49-year olds was 131 of 346.

So Jen and Peggy and I arrived early enough on Saturday to check in, get our materials and then settle into our cheap motel for a good night's sleep. And...
  • Great swag! After check-in, we milled about the exposition area and filled our goodie bags with a really nice quality cap. The T-Shirts were a great quality coolmax, lots of samples of sports drinks, waters, etc. Cute little bracelets with inspirational charms on them (I'm not a bracelet wearer, so Stella just got a bunch!). But we all agree that the winner of the best swag was Trek, who passed out these really nice pocket tools that were basically a philips screwdriver, and various allen wrench sizes that a bicyclist would find useful. Bravo Trek!
  • Breakfast was some peanutbutter provided by Jif in the form of free samples. But get this, they had a warning label on the table for people who are allergic to peanuts. This is litigation gone amuck. I can understand something like potato chips having a "these are made with machines that also process peanuts" warning, or something you wouldn't expect to have anything to do with peanuts like cherry ice cream. But I'm sorry, when you have to warn people that peanut butter contains peanuts maybe it's time for Darwin's law to take over.

  • The marking of the arms wasn't as ritualistic as I would have thought, but it still was this moment when we all became part of this tribe. We went shopping at the outlet mall in Pleasnat Prairie after race check-in but before motel check--in, and we would see other women with numbers on their arms and often would smile at each other knowingly. Of course, there were some women way too hip to do this, but you get those everwhere, even at a women's tri.

  • I'd forgotten how much fun the Outlet mall is. Picked up some snappy new Chuck Taylors at the Converse outlet, and a cute little outfit for Stella at the Oshkosh outlet. I stopped myself before buying some really cute shoes at the 9 West outlet, remembering that with this bum ankle, I'm really not wearing heels for the rest of this year, so I have no business buying them.

  • Lunch at the Chancery. Delicious fajitas (not St. Helen's Polka Fest fajitas, but they'll do), a bartender who served everybody at the bar (all of who were marked-up triathletes) and didn't even question why non of us were having alcohol. Good food, good service. I can deal with chain restaurants like the Chancery, because at least they're local.

  • Our motel was a 1-star motel with a 4-star rating, meaning that it was as basic as basic can get, no amenities, but people who stayed there rated it high. Cheap, clean, close. All we needed was a flop, and we got it.

  • Dinner in Racine at the Olive Garden. Face it, pretty much everybody wanted pasta for dinner, and we scanned menus for local places, and frankly, we knew we could get something not so cheesy at the OG. And for a chain, the OG wasn't bad at all. The service was terrific, we were never without a full glass of water, lots of salad, and admittedly, the seafood alfredo was to die for.

  • One problem with our motel room -- thin walls. We had finally settled to sleep at 9 pm, and right outside our door these women decided to have a loud conversation, the kind that's like titter-tatter-titter EXPLODE with SCREAMING LAUGHTER titter-tatter-titter EXPLODE. Jen and I agreed the next day we were both debating whether to get out of bed to say something, but we a) didn't want to ruin somebody's fun b) didn't want to come off as a bitch, and most importantly, c) didn't want to drag out tired asses out of bed. Eventually, they apparently turned in too.

  • 4:45 am. Wake up call! Oy. Out the door at 5:30, Clif and Luna bars going down, washed down with the first of many jugs of Gatorade. I know there are other brands of sports drinks, but nobody really has improved on Gatorade, have they?

  • Parking at Dairyland Greyhound Park, jump on the shuttle bus to the site, and that's when it kicked in -- we're on this bus with other women, we're psyching up, it's going to happen. We arrive, and we set up our gear by our already racked bikes, and one last trip to the Port-O-Let. We're in our swim gear, which means bare feet, and we're going into a Port-O-Let. I'll never diss Britney Spears again.

  • OK, I'm ready and I have to wait for 6 heats before me to start. (Poor Jen and Peggy were in like the 19th heat -- they're based on reverse age. The Elites go first, then the cancer survivors, then the oldest ladies. At 46, I went early. )Still, it was excruciating waiting that final hour. It's like being in a band that goes on third. I've already tuned my guitar forty times, I've set up my gear, I've sound checked up the waz, heck, I want to play already and I have to sit through two other bands!

  • More later. I'm off to my post Triathlon massage, but I wanted to get this down.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Polka on the South Side

Miss Wisconsin Polka
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Probably a year or two ago, the good folks at St. Helen's Parish probably sat down and had a conversation that went something like this:

"Look, we're not St Rita's or St Veronica's. We don't even have rides."

"Yeah, we're just a little neighborhood festival. We need a hook."

"Well we always have polka bands."

"That's our hook. Let's not just be St. Helen's Festival. Let's be St. Helen's POLKA FEST."

Perfect. I love my little neighborhood festival precisely because it's sort of the anti-Summerfest. They don't do a lot -- there's only one inflatable ride, there's hokey games, there's the standard raffle/rummabe sale/bake sale. It's small, its in the church parking lot. The fish fry is good but forgettable.

But they do one thing well. The bring in the polkas. Not ironic, making fun of polkas. No, there are genuine polka bands there, which bring out people who actually know how to polka. And it's beautiful. Its happy, joyful music for people who love to dance, and dance well. It's that folky 6/8 time that's absolutely timeless, the generation-busting celebration of a wedding, a festival, a birth, a confirmation, or maybe just that somebody came into a large supply of beer. Whatever.

I popped by to pick up some fish fry, and was entertained by the Banjo Barons these guys who played banjo and washboard to John Philip Sousa classics. (They were, if you didn't click on the link, dressed in matching american flag motif shirts).

Polka Band Accordionist
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Then it was outside to catch a wonderful polka band, complete with clarinet, accordionist, keyboard, drums, trumpet, and cute smartalec old guy cracking jokes older than my grammas toe and twice as corny. I'm watching the crowd truly enjoying this, and fell in love with this couple whom somebody forgot to tell that you don't move like that once you get past a certain age. Wow, they could dance, and they weren't working at it -- it was clearly fun for them.

This is what a true music festival is for me. People coming because they love love love the music, because it means something to them, because they appreciate a genre of music played well and passionately by people who share their love for it.

Oh, and the food too. If you never have any other fajitas this year, you absolutley must check out the fajitas on Saturday only at St. Helen's. They are sublime in their simplicity, but they are the best fajitas ever. EVER. EVAH! I'm kind of bummed that I'll be gearing up for the tri on the only day they're available.

Buzzkill before the Triathlon

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I'm riding up that monster hill up Humboldt, approaching North, and I'm pulling a kid in a trailer to boot, and I'm totally high on the fact that I'm doing this, and some dickslap broke some glass, and by the time i cross the intersection and am approaching Wright street, well, there it is.


Two days before the triathlon. All I wanted to do was get an easy going little ride in today, not a major workout, just a good ride to keep my quads and hams in condition. Was that asking so much? Did some prick HAVE to smash their glass bottle at this intersection?

Thank God for Cory the Bike Fixer. He was still open today, and he and his man Marshall not only fixed my flat, but did some fine tuning on my rear brakes.

Also, kudos to Sammy, the Best 3 Year Old Boy Ever. We limped over to the Fuel Cafe and shared a brownie while i waited for Brian to come get me. Sammy couuld have been a butt about cutting short his trailer ride, which he loves. Instead, he told me little boy jokes, shared his gatorade with me, and asked me to help him eat this extremely rich brownie we had at the Fuel.

Really, he could have been a real pain about this. Instead, he turned a total buzzkill into a fun little time on a beautiful summer day.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Oh, and one more thing

Sammy and Curly
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
A road trip through Northern Wisconsin wouldn't be complete without a pilgrimage to the mecca that is Titletown, would it?

That is all.

Edited to Add: No, that's not all. I'm not really all that huge on football. I can take or leave it, and I'm a fairly fair weather packers fan. But if I like any team it's the Packers.

Actually, what I think I really like is the idea of the Packers. I like that they are owned not by some rich guy who thinks it would be fun to have a football team, I like that they are owned by the City of Green Bay and some stockholders. I like that they're in a town that today would never be able to score a national team (be it football, baseball, or even hockey) to be there. I like that the name of the stadium is Lambeau Field, not "US Cellular Field" or "AT&T Lambeau Field." It's just named for a legendary coach who pretty much put the Packers on the Map. And I like that the most legendary coach, Saint Vince himself, was a Packer Coach, that beautiful lifelike statue of him keeping watch over a beautiful stadium the city built with the support of the community (and benefiting the community), and that 90% of his philosophy could be applied to things other than football.

So, being raised a Cubs fan, it doesn't really matter to me whether or not the Packers suck. I like the idea of the Packers, and I thus am obligated to pay homage whenever we're driving through Brown County.

OK, now that is all.

Coming up on a Tri

OK, you're expecting me to tell you what bands to go see, right?

Well, not this weekend. Yes, if you're in town, go see my husband Brian play with Dr. Chow on Saturday night, at the Port of Hamburg, as Frank and the boys wish Frank's sweetie Amber (Miss Laid, remember?) a happy 33rd birthday. (Apparently, I missed being part of another Prom Queen sighting -- the PQs were invited at the last minute to appear in the Bay View 4th of July parade, but I was too tired, strung out, and recovering from Lecherous Leech Lake to make it. I'm told the moment to remember was when Linda, Miss Spent Youth, was approached by little girls who squealed, "Cinderella! We have all your movies!")

ANYway, Friday night I might check in with some Karaoke at Marlavous Marla's at the Bavarian Inn (who I'm told turned in a delightful performance last Sunday at noon at Summerfest as Ronnie Spector), but I'm resting up. Me and my work friend Jennifer are loading up the car and heading to Kenosha Saturday to check in to the Danskin Triathlon. This is her third, my first. She's been a peach about walking me through this, right up to the advice of starting to try various brands of carbo gels for the race in advance ("find one that doesn't make you throw up") and I've settled between Clif Orange Cream and Gu Lemon-Lime.

Sunday is the race. Quarter mile swim (in a leech-less lake, I know this because they wouldn't get 5,000 women in it if there were lecherous leeches in it), 12.5 mile bike, and a 3.1 mile run. Wish me luck. Then, on Monday morning, a massage and facial: as I've said here before, a girl's gotta chill, you know.

Lechery in the Michigan U.P.

Lecherous Leech Lake
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
OK, I'll get the story of why I call this "Lecherous Leech Lake" out of the way right now. As readers of the blog know, I'm on vacation, and part of it involves going to a cabin up in the Michigan U.P. Among other things, I'm taking the opportunity to swim in open waters in preparation for this triathlon I'm doing this Sunday. Normally, I would have done this in the Michigamme Reservoir, but for whatever reason, our group of friends decided to take the kids to Butler Lake and I swam there. We were warned there were leeches, but that sounded like just a scary old story to me. So, I swam across the lake and back. Took me all of 16 minutes, so it couldn't have even been the quarter mile the tri calls for. Still, I'm on the beach, an eye on my little ones, sitting on a towel, quite pleased with myself when I notice a little itch on my inner thigh. I don't want to scratch it right there on the beach, but I look down and OHMIGOD! There's a black slimy thing, right on the inside of my thigh, a half inch away from where my swimsuit starts/ends (depending on your perspective). I ripped it off and threw it back in the water, trying not to make a fuss because I know Stella will freak out. But still, I'm freaking out. There's a freaking leech on me! Near my privates, which makes it a particularly lecherous leech! AAAAHGHGGHGHGH!!!!
I'm assured by my companions that there are no such things as poisonous leeches, and they tell me that the thing to do would have been to put salt on it, but frankly, I'm on the beach with a leech inching toward my hooch, and I'm not thinking "I wonder what the correct procedure to deal with this would be." No, it's "Get this mofo offa me!" And then I'm bleeding. Bleeding like somebody knifed me. Bleeding into my borrowed towel ("Here, Ileana, here's your towel back. Erm, sorry about the blood") and wanting to do something about this. My friend Harry got me some triple antibiotic and a bandaid, and just applying both helped me, like I was doing something about it. Look, I know that leeches are actually used in medical procedures, so they're not all bad, and the reason I was bleeding was that they impart an anti-coagulant, but still. Gross. Gross Gross Gross.

moonrise with tractor in foreground
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Oh well, that was my big excitement in the U.P. And that's how I like it. When the most exciting thing that happens is a lecherous leech latching on during a test swim, that's a good time. That's why I love the U.P. It's a place to chill, to enjoy a quiet night, to listen to the bugs and critters harping about. I used to go up there to enjoy the starriest of starry nights, but part of the U.P.'s magic is that it teaches you that even a cloudy night with a full moon (both contributed to obscuring this weekend the milky way star show you can only get when you're in the middle of nowhere) can be visually magnificent. The U.P. is no Door County, and it's no Rocky Mountain Park, but that in and of itself forces you to appreciate nature in and of itself, and the wonderful toll it takes on its surroundings. There's this barn I've been watching for years, a barn still functioning but slowly losing its roof, bit by bit. There's tons of things devoted to tourists, but there's still a farming industry up there that goes right along with the seasons, and this time of year the haystack harvest is literally rounding up. This particular one was on what was once a strawberry farm. The cabin I have the privilege of using was built by a group of us led by property owner and friend Zack: Zack who basically wrote everybody he knew almost 17 years ago with a simple message: "I've come into some land in the U.P. Help me build a cabin up there and you're always welcome." And we did. And every year we come back, in early July, and bring with us our growing/changing families, and take in the growing/changing U.P. Sometimes the evidence of change and resistance to that change is simultaneous -- this actually used to be this charming one-lane bridge, which is clearly a two lane bridge -- but they haven't bothered to change the sign. But the "family" we all became by helping Zack build this cabin changes and stays the same, just like this road.

One of the things I can stare at forever are these old buildings that nobody ever takes down. I'm in a group on Flickr called "Murder Shack" -- photographs of creepy old buildings where you can theorize about unspeakable horror going on inside. It's hilarious, and I'm here to tell you, the U.P. could pretty much tout itself "Murder Shack Capitol of the World." I'm not sure if this particular buiding is functioning or not, still. It's right by the Kiernan Train stop (and frankly, I've never seen a train cross those tracks, but then again, the crossing gates seem to be well-maintained and functional). But again, that's the beauty of the U.P. Its cause for speculation, reflection, and imagination. Even in a tent with the little onestelling them stories and assuring them that all those shadows are just the trees and sun, not some sinister monster or even Bigfoot.

Old 69 Road
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I could go on waxing poetic forever, or get into detail about all the things we did in the past week, but you, dear reader, might be bored. Rather, let's take this space to discuss a phenomonon we've noticed for years in the Wisconsin/Michigan North Woods: the propensity to name local towns and roads with names that have clearly sexual innuendo. Just on the road to the U.P. you will come across the towns of "Beaver" and "Spread Eagle", and you'll cross the Middle Inlet which is of course preceeded by Lower Middle Inlet, and rest assured, there's an Upper Middle Inlet as well. And I thought I'd heard everything until I heard of the town called Felch. If you don't know what "Felch" means, if you're reading this at work, don't even do a google search for it at work. The Google Search might even ben NSFW. But it all makes sense. Because while you're in the North Woods, especially during the winter, there's not a whole lot more to do or think about. You're driving down a road, and you're headin' to yer cabin, and suddenly the mind turns to those thoughts. And before you know it, you're not just driving down a road. You're going down that Ol' 69, perhaps on your way to Spread Eagle. Lech.