"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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rob & Ashlee's Travel and Tour Company Opens For Business

We sort of took a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Las Vegas last weekend, but it was also a good amount of work for us as we both played tour guide, chaffeur and trip organizer for Ashlee's mom, Evelyn; Ashlee's sister, Paige; her husband, Andy; their 3-year-old daughter, Ella; and Paige's 18-year-old son, Matt. When we asked Evelyn and Matt where they wanted to go for their respective birthdays in March and April, they picked somewhere they had both been before, Las Vegas, and since Paige and Andy had never been before, it seemed like the perfect destination for a family vacation...and was it ever! Everyone had an great time with delicious food, great shows and all the other types of fun that Vegas can offer.
We found a great cheap fare out of Nashville on American Airlines, but kind of paid the price for it with a long layover in Dallas on the way, but after a long day of travel on Saturday, May 23, we finally got to Vegas and our hotel on The Strip, Treasure Island, around midnight Vegas-time. We also got excellent hotel rates (thanks sagging economy). Matt was the only one with enough energy to accompany us for a quick stroll on The Strip after checking in and you certainly could not tell their was much of a slump in the economy as the sidewalks were jammed with people in town for the holiday weekend.
Sleeping in was a priority for everyone on Sunday morning to combat the long day of travel on Saturday, the late arrival to the hotel and a bit of jet lag. Luckily, the champagne brunch buffet at the incredible Bellagio Hotel and Casino a few blocks down Las Vegas Blvd. goes until 4 PM and fit into our plans perfectly. This was everyone's first experience with the Bellagio Buffet and we couldn't have been more impressed. The food was delicious and incredibly varied, and the $6 unlimited champagne upgrade was well worth it. After our feast, we walked around (very slowly since we were stuffed) the magificent lobby and atrium of the Bellagio which includes the amazing ceiling of blown glass designed by Dale Chiluly (photo above). We headed back to our own hotel, the pretty-darn-nice-as-well Treasure Island for a look around the casino and hotel. As afternoon came to a close we started getting ready for our first official "night on the town" in Vegas. Ashlee, Evelyn and Paige had tickets to see Cher perform a couple doors down at Caesar's Palace, while Matt and Rob had tickets to see comedian, Dane Cook, at the Palms Casino and Hotel a short cab ride away on Tropicana Blvd. Andy and little Ella decided to spend the evening walking around a bit, getting some ice cream and hanging out in the room watching a movie. Both shows received good reviews from our group. Ashlee got comments on her "stripper shoes" that seemed to blend right into the Vegas nightlife.
Monday, Memorial Day, saw the troops splitting up again for respective activities. Ashlee, Evelyn and Ella rented a lovely cabana pool-side at the hotel for a relaxing day in and out of the desert sun, while Rob, Paige, Andy and Matt headed south toward Boulder City and the awe-inspiring Hoover Dam. Rob and Matt had toured the dam a few years back on another trip and dropped Paige and Andy off for a tour while they explored the surrounding desert including a short hike in Bootleg Canyon near Boulder City where they discovered a very cool hill-to-hill zip-line set up coming out of the canyon (we definitely have to give this a go on our next trip out when we have more time). After Paige and Andy were picked up from the Hoover Dam, a quick stop was made at Lake Mead and then the Boulder Dam Brewing Brewpub in Boulder City per Rob's request (see Rob's beer blog for more details on this).
The entire group got together again that late afternoon at the TI pool and then later that evening for dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill in Caesar's Palace. Yum-o-licious and the price-fix 3-course menu was a good bargain. A little gambling was done by the ladies after dinner back at Treasure Island with a little money won as well including Ashlee scoring a $100-plus win on the dollar slots. She cashed out all in ones just so her "gangster roll" would look more impressive. The big dinner and desert heat took a toll on almost everyone as they got back to the rooms. Being the GREAT uncle that he is, Rob, per a promise he made to Matt, took him out to his first strip club as a young 18-year-old man. They had a fun time, but wouldn't give much detail other than "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
Tuesday was a our last full day in Vegas and everyone in the group had their missions: the ladies wanted to do a bit of shopping and look around the incredible Venetian Hotel and Casino across the street, Rob wanted to get in at least one poker tournament, and Andy and Matt wanted to ride a rollercoaster. All these were accomplished is good measure and time before the entire group met up again late that afternoon at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino to attend a show entitled Gregory Popovich's Comedy Pet Theatre. While this event was chosen specifically for little Ella, everyone in the group wound up enjoying the lively show of acrobatics along with amazingly trained cats and dogs. Later that evening, with Evelyn and Ella turning in a little early for bed, the rest of the group attended a hilarious 3-comedian set at the Harrah's Improv Comedy Club.
Before heading to the airport for a mid-afternoon flight home on Wednesday, the entire group stopped by the beautiful new Town Centre Mall for a bit of browsing and to have lunch at Rob's favorite new restaurant (that happens to have a 100 beers on tap - see his beer blog for more details on that) called Yard House. The food was excellent (as promised by Rob) and it capped off a great visit to Sin City for everyone involved. Even Ashlee - a very open critic of Las Vegas - had to admit she had a pretty darn good time, and saw Vegas in a different light this time, since it is such a diverse place that was able to entertain a group as large as ours was in so many different ways. Thanks again, Vegas, we will definitely see you again!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Elton John --- leoJ ylliB

We were there last night when "The Rocket Man" and "The Piano Man" invaded Music City for another stop on their second Face 2 Face tour. Wow, what a show! Clocking in at just under 4 hours, these two "old" guys sure had a ton of energy, and both still look like they love to play to live crowds. The show started with them both on stage taking turns doing duets of each other's hit songs. Then it was Elton's turn for about an hour and half of solo work. Elton didn't talk a lot, but let his tremendous piano playing and excellent accompanying band do the talking. He poured out hit after hit and even included a tremendous version of "Madman Across the Water" that must have been ten minutes long. Billy Joel took the stage alone next and here came the hit parade once again. Billy was very talkative and had several funny bits poking fun at his age, people texting during concerts, people sitting in "bad seats" and even the roadies working high above him in the lights and speakers who hadn't had a bathroom break in over three hours. Billy's band was incredible as well with diverse musicians from as far away as Australia to right here in Middle Tennessee. In a non-rehearsed segment, Joel invited lead singer/organist and Nashville resident, Felix Cavaliere, of The Young Rascals to join him onstage to perform their classic hit, "Good Love." Yet another "old guy" who still had it. The performance was great despite Billy admitting he was playing in the wrong chord the whole song. Our seats were dead center allowing us to not only take in the performers, but the incredible light and video presentations as well. Both legends came back on stage after Joel's solo set to perform together once again with more respective hits as well as a couple of Beatles' songs. The show was at the Sommet Center downtown which admittedly is not our favorite venue. The acoustics in there seem to have an echoing effect which keeps clarity from being pitch perfect at all times. But given the energy onstage of these two legends, the showmanship and string of hits that poured out, this event was well worth the steep ticket price and easily moves into our top 5 concerts attended. This show kicks off a "Month of Legends" for us. Ashlee will be seeing Cher perform week after next in Las Vegas, and we are both excited to see Bruce Springsteen for our first time at Bonnaroo a few weeks later.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fork It, Let's Go See a Cooking Competition

After becoming fans of the strangely interesting Iron Chef show on Food TV, it sounded intriguing to us to see a similar style of live cooking competition tonight among five Nashville chefs called Iron Fork 2009 sponsored by the town's best entertainment publication, The Nashville Scene. It was held at the beautiful Country Music Hall of Fame downtown and the price of admission (part of which went to charity) included as much free food samples as we could handle (we got full within the first hour we were there, and there was tons of food still left when we left) and three adult beverage tickets including access to their Blue Moon Beer Garden. The secret ingredient for this competition announced before the one-hour competition began (another aspect of the Iron Chefs show) was purple asparagus harvested earlier in the day from a local farm. Larger than normal asparagus, this colorful vegetable had to be used in two separate dishes that had to be prepared and presented within 60 minutes to four different judges. The winner, Jeremy Barlow of Tayst Restaurant, and his staff worked right in front of us and one of their dishes was a beautiful yummy-looking halibut entree. This is a relatively new annual event for Nashville and was not without its problems...the beer garden kegs were a bust giving much more foam than actual beer, they ran out of bottled beer fairly early as well (probably because of the draught problem), and the cooking competition area had some obscured sight lines at times, but overall it was a lot of fun and something we would definitely considered doing again next year when, as they promised on the way out tonight, "would be bigger and better." We can't wait to eat and see!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How Great Thou Art...Is.

It was a great evening for the arts in downtown Nashville last night as we and our friends, Nate and Beth, took in several different styles around town.
VISUAL ARTS - We started with the Art Gallery Crawl that is held every first Saturday in downtown Nashville. This free-to-the-public event allows open-house access to several downtown galleries most of which offer complimentary wine and hors d'eurves while you browse. There are even free shuttles running between some of the galleries that are further apart. There were tons of people participating, but it was never too overcrowded thanks to the number of galleries participating including The Rymer and Estel. We concluded at the historic Nashville Arcade which seems to have really gotten a new lease on life thanks to many of the little retail shops being turned into small galleries for individual artists such as Andy Anh Ha. Never heard of him? Well, neither had we until last night when Ashlee and I fell in love with a beautiful acrylic on wood board he had done from his "Line Series" and decided to take the plunge by purchasing it. Here's a couple of photos of it now hanging in our living room:
Andy is a native Tennessean whose parents escaped from war-torn Vietnam. He's graduated from UTK and now lives in California.
Thanks so much to our friend, Nate, for suggesting the Art Crawl and for being a great guide during it since he had done it before. Thanks as well to our friend, Beth, who was instrumental in getting the curator at the Anh Ha Gallery to knock 20% off the asking price of the piece we bought. Who said everything about a recession is bad?
PERFORMANCE - After we finished gallery crawling, we headed down 8th Avenue a half mile or so to The Mercy Lounge to catch our favorite regional band, Scott Miller and The Commonwealth. This is our 7th time seeing the boys (Ashlee's seen them 8 times and always likes to point that out for some reason), and they delivered in fine style as usual opening with "Wildcat Whistle" off their new album and not slowing down for the next couple of hours. The crowd was lively and appreciative, and we love The Mercy Lounge's no smoking policy. Ashlee got her second self-portrait with a band member. This time it was their big, burly drummer, Shawn McWilliams., who she said even smelled nice (of course, that was pre-show). Now all she needs is Jeremy and Chris and her collection will be complete since she got Scott himself last year at a show in Chattanooga.
CULINARY - We ended the evening with a 2 AM visit to Waffle House for some late-night sustenance with Nate (we lost Beth just after midnight who had early Sunday morning church obligations). We have always considered the folks behind the counter at Waffle House to be artists in their own right and the grilled cheese sandwiches, waffles and hash browns we ordered proved that once again.