"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

201O|A|R - Happy New Year Road Trip

Dec. 30 - Philly, PA to Atlantic City, NJ
We met today at the Philadelphia airport (Ashlee driving, Rob flying). Ashlee had left a few days earlier to visit her childhood friend, Starling, in Washington, D.C. From there we headed to the sun-lit (but not sun-warmed!) beaches of Atlantic City (photo above) to begin our New Year's Eve long-weekend extravaganza. Tonight we had dinner and drinks with Ashlee's co-worker and our friend, Eileen, and her husband, Mike. We went to Dock's Oyster House which serves a heckuva lot more than just oysters. Great fresh seafood was had by all. Thanks to Mike for researching this excellent place. It would definitely be worth another visit. We did a bit of bar-hopping before and after dinner at the Caesar's Casino and at the Tropicana Casino (photo below - Ashlee and Eileen in the back of a cab with the glitter of Atlantic City flashing by). Not much gambling was done by this group other than a few slot pulls that were to no avail, but a great time was had nonetheless.
Dec. 31 - Atlantic City Eileen and Mike had to head back home to Philly this morning, but we weren't lonely too long because our friend and Ashlee's former co-worker, Amy, and her husband, Jeremy, were safely fighting their way through winter weather driving in from New Hampshire to meet us for New Year's Eve dinner and the OAR concert we all had tickets to. Dinner was at PF Chang's and was delicious and technically free since Rob chopped a small poker tournament earlier in the day (while Ashlee slept in and then went shopping) with three other players for a $300 profit that went to paying for dinner for everyone plus some drinks. The concert was at The House of Blues inside the very nice Showboat Casino. There was a big crowd and we met several OAR loyalists who had seen them several times. This made the second time for us this year and could have been the third time except for a scheduling conflict. The guys were spectacular live again as we expected. They only took a few moments to count down the New Year, let the balloons and confetti drop, and then were right back into the music. The venue was good and spacious which was a relief because we had a bit of bad HOB experience on New Year's Eve a few years back in Chicago. Thanks OAR and Atlantic City for showing us how a great New Year's Eve concert is supposed to go down. January 1 - Atlantic City to Charlottesville, VA We all slept in to start 2010 as late as the great little Chelsea Hotel (highly recommended if you are in A/C) would allow us, and then packed up for our respective trips north and south. But before totally departing ways, we had a delicious Italian lunch with a friend of Amy's who lives in the area. Luckily, it will be a short goodbye for us four as Amy and Jeremy are going on our upcoming Caribbean cruise in early February where we are all looking forward to more beach time of a much warmer nature. The rest of the day was taken up with a lot of driving with good views of the Philadelphia and Baltimore skylines, the Beltway of D.C. and the bitter cold and darkness of Northern Virginia. We had been extremely lucky in terms of weather with the timing of this trip as most of the Northeast had been hit hard a week earlier by a huge snowstorm. Charlottesville and the rest of northern and central Virginia were no exception and still had plenty of remnants remaining (photo below). The roads, however, were in great shape and we had no problems traveling. January 2 - Charlottesville, VA to Johnson City, TN We chose to stop in Charlottesville for three reasons: first, it was about half-way home, second, it had a Doubletree Hotel we could stay at to rack up more points for future travel, and third, it's the home of Starr Hill Brewing, one of Rob's favorite regional microbreweries. After another good sleep in, we ambled over to the small hamlet of Crozet, Virginia, about 10 minutes from Charlottesville to check out the brewery (photo below). We got to taste six of their varieties on tap plus an extra secret one since we had driven so far to visit (shhh! don't tell anyone...thanks, Dave!). See Rob's beer blog for more on the beer itself.

After our tasting we took a short 20-minute tour of the facility led by Shelley, a Starr Hill employee who obviously loves his job and his product! Starr Hill got its start in Charlottesville-proper as a brew-pub and then expanded operation in this converted chicken-processing plant in nearby Crozet. They currently distribute to six states with plans to branch out farther very soon. After a few purchases for us and for friends, it was time for some lunch. From literature we found at Starr Hill we decided to try what else - another microbrewery! After punching in the address in the handy Magellan, we traveled east to another small town called Afton just in time to join a big crowd already assembled at the small, but obviously popular, Blue Mountain Brewery and Restaurant.

All the tables were full for lunch but we were offered a sofa, an armchair and a coffee table if we wanted immediate seating. Yes, please! Blue Mountain like a lot of this region we noticed by way of town and road names has a heavy German influence. Their beer offerings were of the Bavarian nature as was their menu (and our selections from it). We started off sharing a big soft pretzel dipped in their own delicious home-made mustard, followed up a bigger-than-we-thought-it-would-be Brat Pizza...yep, pizza with brat slices..ingenious and oh so good. We also got a beer sampler (photo above) which was also very impressive. So much so that Rob had another pint and we bought a 750ml bottle to take with us (again, more info on the beer in Rob's beer blog). With daylight fading in the cold winter afternoon, we decided to check out one more spot that Rob had researched and was recommended by Bon Appetit magazine for their wine, The Kluge Estate & Winery. This beautiful place happens to be just a few miles from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home and the area's most well-known attraction, but it seemed many miles away from any crowds. We were able to easily and quickly try a flyte of their wines (photo below where Ashlee might be enjoying the fire even more than the wine). The wines were superb as was the ambiance here and we would have loved to linger for a while more, but as the sun began to set in the Blue Ridge Mountains (photo above) we knew we had another long drive ahead of us into the darkness of southern Virginia to the state line and the city shared by two states, Bristol, TN-VA. Plus, we had one more thing to see before we crashed again at another Doubletree Hotel in nearby Johnson City, TN - the famous World's Fastest Half-Mile Bristol Motor Speedway decked out in Christmas lights and a chance to actually drive on the high-banked oval! The drive south did indeed turn out to be long (2oo+ miles), but we made it with just enough time to spare to drive through the impressive Speedway in Lights Christmas Display in and around the Bristol Motor Speedway Complex. This expansive display includes the grounds surrounding the football-stadium-shaped racetrack, the adjoining drag strip and then concluding inside and on the track itself with a carnival of food and rides available in the infield. Despite Christmas being over for a week, this experience was well worth it and highly recommended if you find yourself in the Bristol area around the holidays (or just want to make a fun holiday road trip). They have been putting on this show for several years now, and according to their advertising it only gets bigger every year. Plus, you get to drive on the steep-banked track! (photo above) Even at 5 MPH it's pretty exhilarating and addictive. It took everything we had not to get a speeding ticket on the way home the following day! January 3 - Johnson City to Home Four hours of squabbling over the radio and complaining about the car being a mess. Yep, it's a good thing this road trip is coming to an end! But in all seriousness, this turned out to be one of the best trips we've taken together(and we take a lot of trips!). We thoroughly enjoyed Atlantic City which has really cleaned up its act from the reputation it had gotten in the past of being dirty and crime-ridden. The Charlottesville area turned out to be a great surprise and a real hidden gem. Very undeveloped in terms of touristy crap and instead incredibly pristine in terms of the preservation of history and nature, while still having tons of things to see and do and interesting places to eat and perhaps have a drink or two. What a great way to usher in 2010! We got a feeling it's gonna be a wonderful year as well as a great new decade.!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Collages 11

It was another busy year for us and the collage for 2009 has come together nicely. Like the past two years, we had enough memorabilia to fill an entire frame in one year with tons of great concerts, amazing trips to the Caribbean and Ireland, plus Las Vegas. It went on the wall today along with our other ten framed collages and made another great addition to the den. 19 years and counting. We are already looking forward to 2010.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Friday, December 4, 2009 Even though we had just made a trip to Austin to see our favorite band, Train, perform live on their Save Me San Francisco Tour; when they added nearby Birmingham, Alabama, to the schedule and the tickets were only $15 each, we just couldn't resist. We headed out that afternoon for the 3-hour drive south because the tickets said the show started at 7 PM which seemed a little early. Sure enough after we checked in to our Doubletree hotel (more Hilton points to use later!) and walked a couple of blocks to the 5 Points Music Hall there was a line to get in the place just before 7 PM...but the show didn't start until 9 PM!!! Ugghh, looks like it was a misprint on the tickets that should have read "Doors Open at 7 PM." Because of the long line to get in we figured we wouldn't get as close to the stage as we did in Austin, but thanks to the grueling 2-hour wait, we actually were a few rows closer providing great views of Train and their sensational opening act, Serena Ryder (photo below). Her strong vocals and emotional delivery reminds one of an early Melissa Etheridge before she got famous and over-focused on her sexual preference instead of her music. The 5 Points Music Hall has had a strange little history we learned via Google on Ashlee's Blackberry while we killed time before the show. Evidently, the building was originally a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. It became a hot-bed of live music in Birmingham throughout the 90's and the early part of this century until a double-homicide in the parking lot by an underage patron shut it down for several years. It re-opened a couple of years ago and is building back up its reputation for great live music. We were impressed with the venue for the most part. Good acoustics and sight lines to the stage. A bit smaller than La Zona Rosa in Austin, but not too cramped. The place was packed and Train has a huge following in Birmingham it seems. Lead singer, Pat Monahan (photo above), even told a story of how Birmingham is near and dear to the band's heart because it was one of the first major cities whose prominent radio station featured the first songs from the band on their regular rotation which led to growing exposure and on to nationwide success. I guess that explains why Birmingham was added to the tour dates and not Nashville which we were hoping. This acoustic show put on by Train was not only different in sound, but also in song selection, from two weeks ago in Austin. This made it a wholly unique experience. After the amazing show, we stepped outside with the bustling crowd just in time to see huge snow flakes billowing down from the sky. Too bad our camera batteries were dead! But still a very memorable night deep in the heart of Alabama with our favorite band of all time as we chalked up an 8th time we have seen them live and they still never disappoint.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


We flew out to Austin, Texas, Friday night and visited our friends, Dianna and Johan, and their daughter, Ella, and newborn, Amelia. Ashlee and Dianna grew up together in southern Georgia and have kept in close touch over the years. We had an ulterior motive to visit as well because our favorite band of all time, Train, was also in concert Saturday night in downtown Austin at a small musical venue called La Zona Rosa. The weekend was laid-back as we all slept in both Saturday and Sunday mornings (well, as late as Amelia would let us, but she's a dandy little sleeper). Before we headed downtown for dinner and the concert, we visited another great organic supermarket (we were introduced to Whole Foods on our last visit to Austin several years ago before it went nationwide). This one is called Central Market. What an amazing store. Incredibly fresh food at very reasonable prices. These Austinites are always ahead of the curve in terms of supermarkets. Next we stopped by a liquor and beer superstore called Spec's which was giving out free samples of their wares (Ashlee sampling tequila in photo above)...only in Texas I guess.

Johan's brother and his family were nice enough to watch the little ones and let him and Dianna join us at the concert. Uncle Kracker opened and put on a rowdy little set that was a lot of fun to see. We've seen Train live a half-dozen times, but this was actually the closest to the stage we've ever been thanks to the general admission set-up of La Zona Roza. We were about ten rows back when Pat and the boys took the stage and gave a helluva show enjoyed by us all. Besides a few choice cuts from their new album,, Save Me San Francisco, including their great new hit "Hey, Soul Sister" - the band cranked out hit after hit for close to two hours as well as their usual incredible covers of Led Zepplin as well as "Dream On" from Aerosmith. Lead singer, Pat Monahan (photo above), is still at the top of his game in terms of an amazing vocal range.

This was our first concert in Austin and it was everything we thought it would be. Like Nashville, Austin is a live music mecca and performers seem to bring their best game to these towns. The venue was great as well with good acoustics and great sight lines. We will definitely hop aboard the "Guitar Express" (six guitars brought on the Southwest plane going back to Nashville) if we get another good opportunity including one of our goals to attend the town's famous annual music festival, Austin City Limits, sometime soon. We won't have to wait too long to see Train again since we just bought tickets to see them again in a show they added on this same tour in Birmingham a week from Friday. See you fellas in Alabama next week!

Thanks so much to Johan and Dianna for the wonderful hospitality and generosity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grace -n- Brett

It was good to see our old pals from this year's Bonnaroo Festival, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Brett Dennen, at The Cannery recently playing full plugged-in sets. We enjoyed both at Bonnaroo but the sets we saw there were short (3o minutes each) and fairly acoustic. GP&N technically opened for Brett but it almost seemed like a co-headliner tour because they played for a full hour and really blew the roof off the place. Their energy was amazing. Potter was especially dazzling with her searing vocals and omage to Tina Turner with a short, frilly dress that acentuated her beautiful legs while she twisted and gyrated to the beat her band was laying down. The band closed by surrounding the drum set on stage while each of them contributed to the percussion (photo below). The pairing of GP&N with Brett is a bit odd in our opinion since their music styles differ so much, but it actually works really well to give the listener a wide range of sounds, harmonies and style. Brett's a soulful singer/songwriter (photo bottom) with a Paul Simon-like sound. This was actually our third time seeing him this year since he opened for O.A.R. in Atlanta a few months ago (another odd pairing that really seemed to work well). This was the first stop on the new tour for both and Brett seemed a little perturbed at times when things didn't go as smoothly as he wanted. He even admitted it vocally when he said early in his set that "this is our first show on the tour...and it sounds like it." Obviously, he is a perfectionist because it all sounded great to us as he moved from one great song to another with style and earnest. His hour and half set was great as was our vantage point just a few feet from the stage. Thanks to our friend, Nate, and his new girlfriend (and our new friend), Ginny, for going with us. to this wonderful show.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Perfect Day in Chicago

What can you do with a weird mid-week holiday? Why not take a day-trip to The Windy City? It's only an hour flight from Nashville. You can ride The El in from the airport to downtown for $2.25. Then do a little shopping. Then do a little sightseeing. Then take a food/architecture/history walking tour through two of Chicago's best neighborhoods. Then do a little more shopping and sightseeing. Another $2.25 ride back to the airport. Another hour flight back home. Sound good? Well, it did to us and that's just what we did today for Veteran's Day along with our friend, Joy. And it couldn't have been more perfect.
First off, the weather was incredibly perfect for early November. Sunny skies and mid-60's. The weather added to some perfect photo ops for sightseeing downtown especially in and around beautiful Millennium Park which included the very cool Cloud Gate (photo above) or what the locals call "The Bean". Next, we had some perfect shopping with everyone finding a little something for themselves (Rob -shirt, Ashlee - boots, Joy - scarf) at Nordstrom Rack and Macy's. Saving the best for last, however, was an absolute perfect tour through the beautiful Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods north of downtown. The tour started at George's Hot Dogs in Bucktown. George's has been cranking out real Chicago-style yumminess since 1948. We met our wonderful tour guide, Kent, there along with 13 other folks ( a full group). Kent is the best kind of tour guide - the kind that loves the place he's showcasing and everything it entails. He got us started out right by serving up a loaded dog for each of us. It was delicious. The tour headed out on foot back down Damen Street to Hot Chocolate. Despite its name, this full-service restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, but yes, decadent sweetness is their specialty and we got to sample a cup of their namesake and a homemade marshmallow....not even close to what you buy in the supermarket in plastic bags...these things were amazing! We walked (slowly) from Hot Chocolate on down Damen Street and found Goddess & Grocer, an upscale deli and grocery store owned by a former Hollywood caterer where we tried a tasty sample of antipasto salad. It was here that we were shown what is said to be a new "sensation" around Chicago and beyond - bacon-flavored chocolate??? Don't know about that one yet, but might have to give it a try sometime. Moving on, we next turned onto North Avenue and technically entered into the Wicker Park neighborhood. Our fourth stop was Piece - a pizza kitchen and microbrewery (hooray! says Rob - see his beer blog for more info on that). The beer was great by the way, and the pizza was just as good. Instead of the deep-dish style that Chicago seems to be known for this was thin-crust "New Haven style" - that is, no tomato sauce, just cheese, toppings, garlic, oregano and olive oil. After this stop we were really getting stuffed, so it was time for a longer walk before our next stop. Kent weaved us in and around the neighborhood streets of historic Wicker Park showing us some incredibly beautiful private homes (photo below). A half-hour later or so our next stop was Sultan's Market, an authentic Mediterranean restaurant where we had our first felafels - a pita stuffed with chick peas, hummus, tomatoes and cucumbers. These sandwiches are very popular and now we see why. They are quite tasty and refreshing. We finished this great tour at one of the most unique places on Earth...in fact it's the only place like it on Earth...for now. The place is called I Cream and it's an amazing concept. It's great tasting ice cream with dozens of flavors to choose from and their isn't a freezer in the place?? How's that work? Well, a little milk in a bowl, drop in a few toppings of your choice (we had Nutella, cream soda and hazelnuts) and then BLAST IT with liquid nitrogen and a few seconds later....waalaaaa!!! ice cream!! Very cool concept (pun definitely intended). Store owner/creator, Cara Broward, (at work in photo above) has been up and running for nearly a year now. Sure wish we had some investment money laying around to buy a franchise because this stuff is gonna be the next big thing. Bet on it.
We got home around 10:30 PM just in time to go to bed and get up for work tomorrow. Yep, kind of perfect.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brews and Booze

Saturday, November 7, 2009
Today we attended the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival in downtown Nashville at the Municipal Auditorium and had a great time. This festival travels around the country with stops in major cities highlighting 60 beers and 40 bourbons to sample. It was here last year, but we missed it. We attended with our friend, Nate, (who attended last year and gave it good reviews) and his new girlfriend, Ginny. We got a great four-pack deal of $25 each to attend the festival which included a commemorative sampling glass, a T-shirt and all the beer and bourbon one could sample in a 6-hour period. The BBQ part was not included but they had some great choices for lunch and we chose Pig & Pie out of Nashville and their skewered shrimp covered in their delicious sauce.. Yumm-o!
Admission also included some lectures on the bourbon and beer-making processes which were quite interesting except for the fact that the speakers were having to compete with live music being played nearby (also free with admission). We learned a lot about bourbon whiskey from "professor" Steve Cole with Knob Creek that included samples of four of their products. We also sampled some three concoctions from the brewers out in Colorado known as New Belgium Brewing with a brief introduction to each from "beer ranger" John Gartner. As far as other sampling goes, Ashlee stuck to the bourbon trail for the most part and tried 16 different varieties. Rob went the beer route trying samples of nine new brews plus a half-dozen old favorites (see his beer blog for more details). Since we've been low-carb dieting over the last month or so, this was a fun reprieve from our regiment. Now it's back on the diet to get to our goal weights.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LIVE for Fighting

Chalk up another good venue in Nashville to catch live music. The Belcourt Theatre on 21st Avenue is known mostly for showing independent films but occasionally they have musical acts play, and seeing Five for Fighting there tonight in an acoustic show was our first such experience, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Good sight lines, comfortable seating and great acoustics made the experience worthwhile and definitely something we would do again. The general admission seating also allowed us to grab great third-row seats for the show as well.
Opening for FfF was the angelically-voiced, Angel Taylor, a 21-year-old, up-and-coming singer/songwriter whose work has recently been heard on some TV shows as well as a live appearance on the "Ellen" show. Her original songs were catchy and melodic but perhaps the most memorable tune in her short set was an acoustic cover of "Sex on Fire" by Kings of Leon. Ashlee said it sounded better than the real thing that she saw and heard at a recent KoL show at the Sommet Center.
In case you didn't know, Five for Fighting, is the stage "presence" of singer/songwriter John Ondrasik, sometimes with a plugged-in band, sometimes alone and sometimes, like tonight, acoustic with just some guitar accompaniment. John's been on the scene for about 10 years now with some large critical success and more limited commercial success. His biggest claim to fame came strangely after the events of 9/11 when his song "Superman (It's Not Easy)" became sort of an anthem for the men and women who worked (and died) helping to save victims of the tragedy. His work is inspiring and uplifting and several of his songs like "100 Years" and "World" and "Freedom Never Cries" have been heard and loved by millions of people in ads, TV shows and movies, but who may just not know who John or Five for Fighting really is. Not a glitzy "rock star" by any means, John's a humble family man, a poet and an idealist whose outlet is music and his feelings and experiences with his children, his country and his world are reflected in each and every song.
He interacted well with the audience, telling stories and asking questions in the fairly intimate setting. He gave Nashville high praise which reiterates our feelings that we are so lucky to be able to catch live music in a town so loved and revered by artists who seem to give a little bit more at their shows here. John is promising to return to the stage next year with a full band and we sure do hope he includes Nashville on that tour.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Can't Be in Two Places at Once...

We bought tickets to see O.A.R. again at the Vanderbilt Memorial Gym quite a while back when they first went on sale. So it's understandable that Ashlee mistakenly bought tickets to see up-and-coming singer/ songwriter, Mat Kearney, on the same night at a different venue. She was kicking herself pretty hard for not checking our always-busy calendar before purchasing the conflicting tickets. But what's done is done. We mapped out a plan that sounded like it would work pretty well: We would go to The Cannery at 8 PM and see Kearney's opening act and hopefully half a set from Mat. Then we would take a cab over to the Vandy Gym and catch O.A.R. around 10 PM as they closed the "Commodore Quake" Homecoming concert.
We arrived at The Cannery a few minutes before 8 PM after a carb-free dinner at Outback Steakhouse. We've been on the South Beach Diet for a few weeks now and it's working pretty well in terms of weight loss. Opening for Mat Kearny was the young, lovely and smokey-voiced Diane Birch and her band. She announced this was their last show opening for Mat, who has lived in Nashville for several years now since moving from Oregon where he grew up. Her original songs were catchy and well done. Her band was talented including a great trumpet player, Eric Bloom - horns are always a great addition to a rock band. During her set we got an unexpected text from our friend, Brandon, wanting to know where we were. He told us he was at the Vandy Gym watching O.A.R.?!?! Well, nuts!! It seems that O.A.R. was not the headliner as we had assumed at the Commodore Quake. Instead it was some goofy Latino rapper who calls himself Pitbull [insert eye-roll here]. That's the crap we thought we were missing while checking out some of the show at The Cannery.
Oh, well, "the best laid plans of mice and men" right? There was simply no way to catch enough of O.A.R.'s hour-long set and get back to The Cannery to see the end of Mat's set, so we excepted our fate and settled in to enjoy the full show. Ashlee really felt bad and apologized over and over for the mix-up. Luckily Mat bailed her out BIG TIME! Man, what a voice! Man, what a great backing band! Man, what a great show! This was our first time seeing Kearney live and he was simply amazing. Great stage presence and great energy as he played before a packed crowd back in his current hometown. This was one of the best sounding concerts we have seen/heard at The Cannery and also one of the liveliest as Mat enthusiasm of a packed house in his home town was very evident. He even waded into the crowd during his song "Top of the World" and then climbed atop the long bar to perform part of the song. Very cool. He included his hits (mostly heard on independent radio and as TV show background music) of "Breathe In, Breathe Out" - "Nothing Left to Lose" and his new hit, "Closer to Love" from his new album, "City of Black and White." He closed the show by inviting Diane and her band back on stage and they performed an ensemble cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and there was that great trumpet again covering the saxaophone parts in the song. Very, very cool. In hindsight, the night really could not have went any better. If not for the lucky text by Brandon our plan would have pretty much been a bust as we would have missed most of Mat's set (he did not go on until 9:30) and all of O.A.R.'s (they were off the stage by 10 PM). Plus, Mat's headlining set in his hometown was longer and probably better than O.A.R.'s sandwich set - yes, another rapper opened for them...ugghh! We hated to miss seeing O.A.R. live again (Brandon did say they were great) since they put on such a great show that we saw in Atlanta a little over a month ago, but we know we will catch them again (hopefully as the headliners they deserve to be).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Going On Snow Patrol

We missed seeing Snow Patrol on their last visit to Nashville when they opened for Coldplay, so we were excited to find out they were coming back with their own headlining tour to our favorite Nashville music venue, the historic Ryman Auditorium. We bought tickets way back in June and it was a good thing we did because the place looked sold out by the time they took the stage. Opening for Snow Patrol was a good little band out of Chicago called The Plain White Tees. They struck commercial success a few years ago with their catchy little ditty "Hey There, Delilah." They performed a nice opening set that included some good original songs including "1,2,3,4" which is on our favorite videos that we've seen in the last few years . (let it play for a minute or so to see why it's so good)
Their songs are pretty simple and uplifting in tone. They said they were heading back to Chicago this fall to record a new album and we look forward to hearing more from this talented quintet.
We have become fans of Snow Patrol in the past few years thanks to a string of great songs that have made radio and TV airplay including "You're All I Have", "Chasing Cars" and their newest hit, "Crack the Shutters." This was our first time seeing them live and it was a truly amazing show. Led by charismatic (and darn funny) frontman/singer, Gary Lightbody , this Irish/Scottish band of five (seven members touring) is extremely talented and quite a well-oiled machine after being together for 14 years. The lyrics of their songs are simple and complex all at the same time with haunting melodies and catchy rhythms. Lightbody was very engaging to the audience and when he wasn't cracking jokes (in his Irish accent..."We have sung to you and now ya...uhh...yawwwl can sing to... uhhh....y'us"), he was expressing the sincere honor of playing at the Ryman. We are extremely fortunate to catch acts at The Ryman who appreciate the history of the stage they are standing on and in turn give a great performance so as to leave their mark there as well. In short, we have never seen a bad show there and most of our Top Ten have been there which includes this one.
They encored with an incredible three-song epic they call "The Lightning Strike." It was accompanied by an amazingly complex light and image show that draws similarities to live performances by the likes of Coldplay and Pink Floyd. The nearly two-hour show flew by and definitely left us wanting more. We cannot wait to see them again.

FOOTNOTE: We also caught another show from our favorite regional band, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, at Nashville's Mercy Lounge (photo right) during The Americana Festival last month. The boys put on a lively show despite the late hour (they didn't go on until after midnight) and we were right down front to take it all in. "Sin in Indiana. It's a powerful thing!"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 6 - Doolin to Dublin

Our last full day in Ireland. Sad, but true. We slept away most of the morning as we heard the rain coming down again outside our hotel window. We would have loved to explore more of this quaint little town of Doolin (artist rendering right) if the weather had been better, or even stay a couple more days. We did get up in time to grab some complimentary breakfast from Hotel Doolin and awaited our ride back to Dublin which would arrive sometime around noon. We were informed by the folks at Extreme Ireland that we would be taking a Paddywagon tour bus (remember, the folks with the bright green buses we used on our visit to Blarney Castle) back instead of one of theirs. Seemed a little odd since we figured they were in direct competition with each other. but again the Irish are very cordial - even in the business world. The Paddywagon bus arrived earlier than we expected and that was because their tour had not visited the Cliffs of Moher before

lunch like ours did. So, we got a second visit to the Cliffs of Moher (photo above) for no extra cost! Might sound redundant, but with the weather changing so often in Ireland, a second visit was vastly different from the day before. The wind was howling on the clifftops and while the rain had let up during our visit it was very damp in spots including a natural wind tunnel that was blowing surf up 400' or so from below. Totally amazing! (video below) More luck of the Irish was with us by riding back with this particular Paddywagon Tour because the driver, Tom, was the best guide we had the whole trip. He had great stories, jokes and tidbits of info he shared along the ride back in fairly dismal weather. This certainly made the time pass quicker. We stopped again at Bunratty Castle as we did a few days before, but instead of going back to Durty Nelly's, we wondered into another nearby pub called The Creamery Bar - guess what? large, clean and friendly. We we got back to Dublin around 7 PM, we had a decision to make. We could head on out to the Dublin Airport Hilton where we were staying tonight a good distance from downtown Dublin, or we could hang around in Dublin a few more hours for a last farewell. Since the place where we had our best meal, The Bull & Castle, was just up the street, we decided that dinner and a few drinks before heading out toward the airport would be worth dragging our luggage a few blocks to it. We felt a little goofy with our luggage in tow, but the folks at The B & C thought nothing of it and gave us a table with room to store the bags while we enjoyed dinner...did we mention the Irish are very friendly? More Irish microbrews and whiskey were had as well another great dinner. We are definitely gonna miss this place.

A cabstand was just outside and we made good time to the Airport Hilton which looked like it was fairly new and actually in a nice neighborhood area near the airport, but not right up on it (i.e. no jets buzzing the rooftops all night). We organized and packed for our trip home tomorrow thinking back on what a great time we had. We would love to return to Dublin again and perhaps travel north to Belfast and visit The Giant's Causeway on the northern shores of the island, as well as the southern area of Kilkenny that gets high praise as well.
Thank you, Ireland, for a wonderful trip that we will never forget.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 5 - Headin' West

We got up early again this morning, lugged our suitcases down to the lobby of the Conrad Hotel, bid it farewell, and grabbed a cab to the other side of Trinity College to the Dublin Tourist Office to meet our second day-tour company, Extreme Ireland. These folks also got good reviews online and offered a day trip out to the west coast to visit the stunning natural wonder called the Cliffs of Moher, a half mile or so of 400 ft. cliffs plunging straight down into the Atlantic Ocean. We settled in for another long ride that included some of the same landscape we saw a few days earlier (the weather was nicer today and the views much more stunning). We once again stopped in downtown Limerick - a little longer this time allowing a few minutes to stretch our legs and walk the Thomond Bridge (photo above) over the River Shannon toward King John's Castle.

Back on the bus for another hour and a half and we arrived on the west coast at the stunning Cliffs of Moher (photo below). Wow, what a site! Definitely in the Top Ten of places we have visited that simply take your breath away. We were given a full two hours here to wander around atop the cliffs and around O"Brien's Castle, a small stone lookout tower and tribute to the former owner of the land who deeded it to the people of Ireland upon his death (photo below). The weather was pleasant with a good breeze blowing and the sun trying to poke out from the clouds allowing for good photo opportunities.

Weather moves in and out of these cliffs rather fast and we were told the last two days of visitation were basically washed out by rain and the views obscured by fog, so we felt very fortunate. Entry to the cliffs is free - this was an important part of O-Brien's will that it be free to all visitors forever - but they have some interactive things that you can pay to see in the visitor's center. We opted to buy tickets since we had a little spare time and checked out a nice historical display about the area plus a cool short 3-D film called "Atlantic Edge" showing the cliffs from literally a bird's-eye view.

After our visit to the Cliffs of Moher, we were scheduled for lunch in the charming little town nearby known as Doolin. One reason we chose Extreme Ireland as our tour guides was the fact that they would allow us to stay overnight in Doolin as an option and pick us up on the same tour the next day for delivery back to Dublin. We made reservations at Hotel Doolin, a new small modern hotel in town with very reasonable rates. Since there were no Hilton properties out this way (and Ashlee was out of points anyway), Hotel Doolin gave us a small-town experience in Ireland as well. Plus, it split up the long bus ride to and from Dublin into two days instead of one very long one. We will have to remember this idea for future travels.

We gobbled our lunch down because we wanted to make a 2 PM ferry ride from the Doolin Pier to see the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean. The hotel was about 2 miles from the pier and we did not think we could make it in time to catch the boat if we walked, so we asked the girl at the desk about a cab. Evidently in Doolin there is only one cab that she called and we were lucky that the driver was nearby. He got us down to the pier and only charged us 5 Euro (no meter in the cab). Money well spent. The pier was busy as two other ferry lines offered tours as well as normal ferry service to folks living on the nearby Aran Islands. The weather was holding steady somewhat but the breeze was picking up a little and storms were forecasted for the evening. The ocean was in good shape as we headed out on a decent-sized boat that was full of sightseers. The cliffs were just as amazing from this vantage point and the stunning 200' Branaunmore sea stack (photo below) rising from the water at the base of the cliffs was even more visible than from above, as well as a cascading waterfall down the face of the cliffs. The sea stack was covered with nesting seabirds and the boat was able to get very close to it. What an amazing site! There is also a sea arch on a far end of the cliffs, but we didn't get close enough to see it real well since it was only an hour cruise. The sea was a bit choppier as we headed back and the weather was definitely turning. Ashlee got a little green around the gills, but held it together until we got back to shore. What a trooper!

We made the walk back to the hotel from the pier as the rain began to fall. We got a little gripey about the situation and then quickly came to the realization that we were walking on the west coast of Ireland in the rain seeing landscapes like the photo below, and that overall it was pretty damn cool. We stopped in a few shops as we made our way back including a wonderful chocolate shop where the owner was very friendly and very generous with her samples! We rested and unpacked somewhat (we were only there for one night) and planned our evening. Our tour driver told us that the best place for food and live music afterwards in Doolin was O'Connor's Pub - a long-standing establishment (since 1832 to be exact). It was about a mile walk back the way we came from the pier, but the rain had not increased in volume and we decided to give it a go. Another great walk worth a little inconvenient rain. The pub was again...large, clean and very friendly. We found a table fairly easily despite the place being very busy. Ashlee continued her tour of Irish whiskeys and we started the night with a classic staple: fish and chips. Delicious. The fish was light and not greasy at all. Hey, it's an ocean town and they know how to do fish. We drank and nibbled away the time awaiting the music to start around 9:30 PM. We were expecting a band to set up but instead three older fellas just commandeered a booth and started plugging away with two fiddles and a flute. We listened a while until our eyes got heavy from the Guinness and the whiskey and we were in need of some sleep after such a great, but long, day on the west coast of Ireland. The rain had let up as we walked back in the pitch-dark street on a cool, quiet Irish eve. This is living, my friends.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 4 - Dublin City Pub Crawl

We awoke from our 12-hour slumber fully rested and completely rid of the jet lag that had been hounding us the last couple of days. It now actually felt like the actual time it was in Dublin (six hours ahead of back home). We had a "rural pub tour" scheduled for today that looked like it was going to be a lot of fun, but we were informed a few days before that it had to be cancelled due to lack of participants and the fact that a few of the pubs they usually visited on Sundays would not be playing live music because of a big game of "hurling" on TV that day. Hurling is similar to lacrosse and there was a big championship game being held in Dublin between two neighboring areas. The 80,000-seat stadium was sold out and everyone was excited about it.
We were disappointed not to visit some small pubs outside the Dublin city limits, but we can't say we were really disappointed to not have to climb back on another tour bus after the long day yesterday and another long tour pending tomorrow. So, we decided to conduct our own "Dublin Pub Crawl" beginning in the late afternoon and continuing late into the night. Before wading into our evening of debauchery, we stopped by Trinity College again to take a look at their famous "long hall" library (photo above - not our picture, no cameras allowed) and the even more famous Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated version of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John dating back to the 9th century (photo above - again, not our picture). The library was amazing and the Book of Kells was fairly interesting. But enough of this refinement and dignity...on to the pubs!!!
Our first stop was for an early dinner and drinks at The Bull & Castle. The B&C is a pub, German-style beer hall and restaurant all rolled into one. It has an extensive beer menu (researched by Rob - see more on the brews he had in his beer blog) including several Irish microbrews. Ashlee opted for their Irish whiskey sampler instead (photo below). The food was delicious with a Guinness Pie for Ashlee (shepherd's pie cooked with Guinness) and Irish wild salmon for Rob (photo below).
We next ventured over to The Brazen Head Pub which claims to be Dublin's oldest. What's great about Irish pubs (or at least all the ones we visited) is that they are much bigger than we anticipated. The Brazen Head, for example, is comprised of 3 separate bars in 3 separate adjoined areas allowing for a lot of people to grab a pint fairly quickly, find a seat and enjoy the atmosphere. The spaces are cozy and divided enough to allow for quiet conversation in one area and boisterous singing and such in another. Other traits we noticed was that all the pubs we visited in Ireland were: (1.) very clean - no filthy "beer joints" here where you are afraid to touch anything; (2.) that the local patrons and staff are extremely friendly - no dirty looks at the tourists invading their favorite watering hole and asking "dumb" questions of the staff; and finally, (3) bright, cheery places that are even family friendly since most serve food as well, and not dark, sullen drinking pits. We encountered no problems in any of the pubs with people who had drunk too much and were unruly in any way. The Irish have long been the butt of many jokes about over-indulgence in terms of alcohol, but to us they seem to have the act of social drinking down to an art form.
Our next stop was at The Porterhouse. This is actually a fairly new establishment and also a chain with three other locations throughout Ireland. Despite no real history, the place was packed and it's a very cool microbrewery serving there own quality beer in many different varieties. The Porterhouse is located in the heart of the Temple Bar area of Dublin. Temple Bar is a festive area down near the River Liffey with tons of pubs, shops and and restaurants. From what we gathered on our walking tour the day before yesterday, the area was. at least up until a few years ago, in a sad state of neglect, but a successful campaign to revive the area has turned it into the real hotspot in downtown Dublin. While strolling through Temple Bar after leaving The Porterhouse we stopped in the Oliver St. John Gogarty (photo below). This pub is seen in many pictures of Dublin and the Temple Bar area thanks to its bright colors and numerous flags adorning the building. It is definitely a "tourist trap" type of pub with piped-in music and a TGI Friday's kind of feel inside, but it made for a nice brief stop for tired feet and we had a great board of Irish cheeses to snack on.
The final major stop on our Dublin Pub Crawl was Messrs. Maguire. This great 3-story pub faces the River Liffey and has tons of nooks and crannies to get lost in while sipping your favorite adult beverage. It is also a microbrewery (do you see a pattern here? Rob says man cannot live by Guinness alone). We arrived here after the big hurling game mentioned earlier and it was full of Kilkenny fans adorned in blue and gold attire. They were in great spirits so we assume that Kilkenny won the game. Things were starting to get a little blurry after our stop here and we did drop briefly into a place called Cassidy's Bar that was supposed to have a piano bar, but the place was dead and there was no sound of the tinkling of the ivories, so we called it a night and took a cab (very reasonable rates in Dublin, by the way) back to the hotel to prepare to pack up our stuff to take a day tour to the west coast and spend our next night in the tiny town out there called Doolin.