"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.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Carolina, you could do some good for my soul..."

The lyrics in this blog title are from new (to us) artist, Connor Christian & Southern Gothic, and they really express how we feel today after returning from Asheville, North Carolina, for our yearly jaunt to their downtown Bele Chere Festival. Just like last year, we hemmed and hawed over the decision to go to Bele Chere, and just like last year we were so happy we did afterwards because the mountains of Carolina plus Asheville's laid-back attitude are certainly good for the soul. We had a great trip with decent weather, good food, more great discovered music, and some fantastic scenery.
The ride up was smooth with a bit of heavy traffic. We changed our usual routine this year when we got to downtown Asheville and decided to see how close we could park to the downtown festival instead of riding the shuttle bus in from a perimeter mall. It worked out well as we got in a lot just a few blocks from the festival for just $5. The 31st Annual Bele Chere Festival had a somewhat new layout this year and was slimmed down as well according to their literature for a couple of different reasons: the economy and the fact that some major construction was going on in and around downtown. The crowds were still pretty good, but it did not seem as heavy as last year. We strolled around and our first stop was at the Winehaus - a wine and liquor store downtown that always has great beer deals during the festival. This year was no exception with a fine selection of ice cold quality bottled microbrews and imports for $2 each. The beer went down good because the humidity was up and it was pretty steamy in Asheville despite being nestled in the mountains.
We wondered around the blocked-off downtown streets taking in the sights and sounds of the festival while sipping our beers. The first year we came to Bele Chere was to see a band we really like, Train. But for the last three years, it's been the festival and not the music that draws us here. Yet, we always enjoy most of the music going on at Bele Chere and this year was no exception. We first happened upon GFE (Granola Funk Express), an eclectic group of local rap and hip/hop artists. While this isn't our particualr forte in music, these guys were pretty darn good and their lyrics were clever. Our favorite line was, "I'm tired of 40-ouncers and 20/20 hindsight."
Like programmed machines we headed for our next favorite Bele Chere stop, The Laughing Seed Restaurant - a wonderful vegetarian cafe' we discovered by accident during last year's festival. More tasty beer was ordered here as well from the Jack o' the Wood Brewpub located downstairs from the restaurant (for more details on the brew see Rob's beer blog). The food (and the air conditioning) was excellent. After our early dinner we ambled up to the Battery Park Stage and caught some of WSNB (We Sing Nasty Blues?). These guys were more our speed in terms of musical style with a great blend of blues, rock and Americana. Their lead singer, Willie Shane Johnston, has an amazingly powerful voice and could really wail on the mouth harp. We sought out more beer afterwards. Hey, that's what Bele Chere is all about! We then made arrangements to meet a new friend of ours known as Birmingham Steve. We met Steve at the recent Drivin' & Cryin' show in Chattanooga when he recognized Rob's "Blue Rodeo" concert shirt and struck up a conversation since he too is a big fan of the Canadian legends. In fact, Steve is quite the music lover and attends a lot of shows and tapes them to post on You Tube (he's kind of legend with more than a million hits on his posts). Steve had been in South Carolina for a show on Friday night and was driving back through Asheville and knew we were at Bele Chere thanks to Facebook. He recommended a band that was headlining that night before a huge crowd (photo above) on the Battery Park Stage called the Old 97's from Texas (photo below). We trusted Steve's judgement and he did not disappoint. The Old 97's are regional legends in the their own right and their Texas rock/Americana show was right up our alley. Third row vantage points made it even better to really appreciate the band's energy and showmanship. We became instant fans. After the great show we were drained and a little hungry (and ready for more beer. of course). It took a while to find a place that wasn't packed, but we stumbled upon Wasabi, a Japanese sushi bar and grill. The food was superb, the service was great and the chance to sit down for an hour or so was wonderful. Afterwards we bid Steve a good night and thanked him again for meeting us and making such a great recommendation.
We slept in late Sunday morning. Probably too late because by the time we got back downtown to eat brunch at the award-winning Tupelo Honey Cafe', it already had over an hour wait...no thanks...so, we went instead a few doors up College Street to Mayfel's which only had a 20-minute wait. It was worth it. Wonderful food and a street-side table made for a nice wake-up to Asheville. Bele Chere continues on Sunday but not for us...and it wasn't because they don't sell beer on the streets on Sunday...we had another Asheville locale we wanted to check out - the North Carolina Arboretum. This amazing botanical garden set among the already natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway was better than we even expected. For only a $6 parking fee you get immaculate gardens such as the quilt pattern (photo above), numerous wide walking paths and trails, clearly labeled plants and trees and two beautiful buildings that house a visitor center and a learning facility. You could easily spend all day here and we probably would have if it wasn't becoming another steamy afternoon. We plan to come back here in the fall and/or spring again and take more in during cooler weather. We stopped by the nearby Asheville Farmer's Market to snag some huge blackberries that Ashlee had seen a lady with in our hotel earlier that day. We got a call from Steve who was still in the area. We decided to meet at Asheville Pizza and Brewing (yes, more beer) - a quirky little pizza kitchen and microbrewery (photo below). The place is quite unique and the beer they brew is excellent as was the pizza we three designed on our own with wheat crust, pesto sauce, italian sausage, roma tomatoes and banana peppers. Steve was going back to Bele Chere for an afternoon set by Webb Wilder. Did we mention he loves live music even more than we do? We declined the offer to join him since we were a bit zapped from our humid walk through the gardens and still had a 4-hour drive in front of us. The trip home was uneventful as we dodged a few thunderstorms and some slow pokes in the fast lane. Another great trip to Asheville which is definitely on our short-list of places we would like to retire to someday.

Monday, July 20, 2009

There Aren't Many BETTER THAN EZRA

Why these guys aren't selling out stadiums is beyond me, but we were happy to see now-veteran rockers, Better Than Ezra, last night at one of Nashville's busiest (and smallest) music venues, 3rd & Lindsley.

We debated back and forth on our way there if we had been to 3rd & Lindsley before (another reason to have this blog - memory loss is real, people!) and almost convinced ourselves that we surely had based on all the great music they have there, but when we pulled up in front of the place and walked inside we knew we had not been here before because we would have surely remembered how down-right strange the place is.

3rd & Lindsley as it says on its sign is a "bar and grill" in every sense of the moniker. It's basically a sit-down restaurant that happens to have a small stage in the front of the establishment. There is no open area to stand in front of the stage like most venues that serve food, have tables and also have music. Here the tables push right up against the stage. They also have a small loft overlooking the stage with a few bar tables as well. This is where we got stuck for the show despite being there an hour before the music even started? Lesson learned if we come back. The show was sold out and we were actually lucky to get a couple of seats with somewhat obstructed views of the stage. The show was part of a weekly Sunday-night showcase broadcasted live from 3rd & Lindsley on the local indie station, Lightning 100. The opening act was introduced by their senior DJ, David Hall (rocks ya'll) and it was 16 Frames, a young up-and-coming band out of L.A. When the band started, we knew it was going to be worth the crowded conditions and obstructed views because the acoustics were spot on. 16 Frames is a solid ensemble whose original songs however all kind of sound the same. The most memorable part of their set were two covers of a Rolling Stones hit and a Tom Petty song.

After a quick break it was time for Better Than Ezra. These guys rose to fame in the mid-90s with their platinum debut album, Deluxe. They were in Nashville to support their seventh studio album, Paper Empire. They opened the acoustic show with the first indie hit off the new album, "Absolutely Still." Great, great song. They played for a solid hour cranking out one solid song after another. Unlike 16 Frames, there was no mistaking one BTE song for another. Let's just say, you will never mistake "Desperately Wanting" with "Juicy." After an hour the live broadcast was over and charismatic lead singer, Kevin Griffin, exclaimed, "OK, now we can curse!" The band continued on for another half-hour of great songs including a couple of quirky covers including Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open the Door." A great night of music despite a few setbacks and learning experiences.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Little Bit of Drivin' & a Little Bit of Cryin'

We made the usual 2-hour trek to Chattanooga to check in with the inlaws (and the outlaws) yesterday after work, but we also had another reason to do a little drivin'....and that was to see Drivin' & Cryin' perform at Chattanooga Rhythm and Brews. CB&R is a small music venue/bar located downtown. We have been here before to see one of our regional favs, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, and weren't crazy about the place. First, it's a smoking venue. That's nice to keep the teeny-boppers out since you have to be 21 or older, but it's hell on your lungs and eyes (hence, the little bit of cryin'). Second, the acoustics and sound techs at CB&R are just not that great. Perhaps we are little biased since we've seen so many great-sounding shows at The Ryman and at Bonnaroo where they take sound engineering VERY seriously. But this was a rare opportunity to see a (somewhat) legendary band who get rave reviews for their live show. As lead singer, Kevin Kinney, proclaimed when they took the stage - they haven't put out a record in 12 years (a new one is coming out in the fall) - but you sure couldn't tell that from the crowd as it was packed to the gills with folks who roared to life when they opened with their awesome hard-rocking ode to the South, "Honeysuckle Blue." The went non-stop for the next hour and a half and closed with their great sing-a-long anthem, "Straight to Hell." The ol' watch said 2 AM (EST) by the time we got out of there, but it was well worth all the drivin' and all the cryin', Opening the show was another Atlanta native, Connor Christian, and his band The Southern Gothic. They were a tremendous surprise and we would love to see them again in a place with better acoustics and sound engineering. They had several catchy original numbers but their best performance was a cover of Guns & Roses' "November Rain" with a fiddle instead of a lead guitar...very, very cool.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Singing about Singer Island

We took a nice quiet beach trip over the 4th of July weekend to Singer Island just north of West Palm Beach, Florida. Unlike most of our trips which are pretty active and we usually have to come home to rest from them, this was a great time to just relax on the beach and pretty much do nothing. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale via some free Southwest flight credits and drove north stopping in Lake Worth for a quick bite of lunch at one of our favorite little South Florida delis called Too Jays. We arrived at our hotel in the torrential downpour of a nasty thunderstorm, but the weather quickly improved and obliged us the whole weekend with mostly sunny skies and a nice sea breeze to push the humidity away.
We stayed at the Singer Island Hilton, a beach-side property we stumbled upon during our last visit to this area. While it's a bit older hotel than we anticipated and was going through some renovation, our room was quiet, clean and had a nice ocean view (photo below) for a respectable price, plus we earned valuable Hilton-Points we can use for free lodging during our upcoming trip to Ireland. The beach it sits on is clean and wide with great swimming.
Besides the beach and the Hilton-Points, our biggest reason for selecting this particular location is because it is very near one of our favorite restaurants in South Florida, Captain Charlie's Reef Grill which we have driven 50 miles one-way to get to before (see previous blog). Yep, it's just that good and it was our destination that first evening we arrived. The long menu of specials is hand-written each day (photo below) and we chose to start from it with an incredible T-WA (tropical western Atlantic) shrimp appetizer that Ashlee has proclaimed one of the best dishes she has EVER had. Our entrees were sesame salmon and blackened tripletail (a fairly common Atlantic fish similar in taste to snapper). Both dishes were excellent. We got desserts to go (too stuffed to even think about dessert after our dinner). We chose the pineapple cobbler and banana/mango cake (more like bread). These were both quite enjoyable later on back in our beach-side room.
We were going to go to Capt. Charlie's every night, but then thought that sounded a little weird, so after a great day lounging on the beach with an occasional dip in the cool, refreshing ocean, we decided for a change the second night for dinner. We headed over to the lovely (and new) Garden Mall area and found the Yard House Restaurant. This is a favorite small-number chain of ours that we discovered out in Las Vegas recently. Not only do they have 100 beers on tap (which Rob loves), but their food is excellent. We had delicious chicken lettuce wraps for our appetizer and an Asian chicken salad and a hot pastrami sandwich infused with jalapenos for our dinner entrees'. Can you tell this trip was all about eating and relaxing? After dinner we caught a showing of "Away We Go" at the mall's nice movie theatres. It was a great quirky little movie that we were happy to catch here since it's in somewhat limited release across the country.
Saturday, the 4th of July, was another grand day on the beach. The crowds picked up a bit from the previous day, but it still wasn't packed thanks to Hilton's private beach. We had planned to go back to Capt. Charlie's that evening for dinner and were greatly disappointed (but not really surprised since it is a local establishment) to see they were closed for the holiday. Guess we should have asked about that on our first night there. Glumly, we opted for our second choice a bit further south in W. Palm Beach at another very nice mall complex called City Place. From some earlier research Rob wanted to check out a place called Brewzzi (yes, more for the beer than the food - see his beer blog for more info on that). It was a very nice restaurant and the food was pretty good, but it just didn't compare to The Reef Grill. After dinner we parked in downtown West Palm and strolled around their free Independence Day celebration called "4th on Flagler." They had closed off busy Flagler Avenue along the causeway and had music stages and vendors set up as tons of people milled about waiting on what was sure to be a huge fireworks show over the water at dark. We planned on staying for it, but the humidity and the tiredness of being in the sun all day took its toll and we decided to head out before the start of the fireworks, hoping to miss all the traffic and instead catch a show nearer to our hotel. When we got back to the hotel we were in luck as folks from the Hilton and the neighboring resort were having a small albeit pretty good fireworks show on the beach which we could see with ease from our balcony (and air-conditioned room). A great way to end a pretty darn good 4th of July on the beach.
We slept in Sunday morning, packed up our stuff and headed to the Palm Beach airport for an early afternoon flight home. As we said, the trip was quick, quiet and relaxing and we thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish.