"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 25, 2010

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound

The fourth weekend in July has only meant one thing to us over the past four years: It's time for Bele Chere! The annual arts and music festival in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, is one of our favorite weekend road trips. It's been going on for over 30 years but we only "discovered" it when our favorite band, Train, performed there back in 2006. Since then we have been going no matter who performs because it's just such a good festival and downtown Asheville is such a great, quirky little place.
This year we got a double-bonus when we found out that one of our favorite new-to-us bands, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, were going to headline on one of the stages on Saturday night. We usually stay a litte away from downtown and ride a bus in to the festival, but this year we were able to snag a decent price on a room at the downtown Renaissance Hotel within walking distance of everything.
Our friend from New Zealand, Mel, tagged along with us as she was preparing for her return "down under" on Sunday. We headed out Saturday morning for the four-hour drive to Asheville. We stopped about half-way for lunch in Knoxville at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. As the name implies, it's located right downtown just a few doors down from the Bijou Theatre which has a lot of great music, and is definitely on our radar screen if an artist we like comes there. This little pub would be a great place to have a pre-show drink because their beer brewed on site is really good. Their food was OK, but a tad disappointing based on their large menu and descriptions.
We continued east after lunch and made good time to Asheville despite a bit of road construction in the mountains on the TN/NC border. We were able to check in a bit early at the hotel and found it to be very nice. Our room on the 8th floor had a good view of downtown Asheville and looked to have been recently renovated. We rested up a bit and then headed out to get our festival on. Another big reason we like Bele Chere is that usually Asheville is a bit cooler in the summer since it is tucked up in the mountains, but that wasn't the case this year as the heat was quite oppressive. Then again, it's been an unusually hot summer in the South this year with extreme heat starting in early June and not letting up much at all yet.
We strolled around and had some water and a few cheap beers (another great thing about Bele Chere - no festival beer price gouging). We found a bar called TallGary's Pub where we could escape the sun and grabbed a window table and watched the sweating festival-goers pass by. After a few more good cold beers, we went down a few doors and into and through the Jack O' the Wood Pub and upstairs to one of our favorite restaurants in Asheville, The Laughing Seed, for dinner. The vegetarian-only dishes were delicious as usual and we finished up just in time to head back downstairs and across the street to the Coxe Avenue Stage where The Dirty Guv'nah's from Knoxville were about to play. These guys were at Bonnaroo this year and we wanted to see them based on a few songs we had heard, but we missed them due to a schedule conflict. Too bad, because they are fantastic live! They are a five-piece Americana/rock band who have a lot of soul and a ton of talent to be so young. Their sophomore album was just released and based on some of the songs we heard, it's gonna be a doozey. We got a chance to buy their first CD after the show, meet the band and get it autographed.

Afterwards, we moved up quite close to the stage as the crowd gathered in quickly in anticipation of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals to close out the night. For a free festival (another thing we love about Bele Chere) it's amazing what good shows and great talent they get here in Asheville. Grace & Co. were dead-on in their performance with amazing energy and crowd appeal. This despite the fact they may be on the brink of becoming huge with recent national appearances on the Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon shows, as well as Jimmy Kimmel coming up the following week of this show at Bele Chere. They played for a solid hour and a half and the huge crowd was very appreciative and receptive.

After the show we made our way through the crowds and found a cool little wine bar called the 5 Walnut where we were able to grab a seat for a rest and a few after-dinner drinks. We were just a few minutes walk to our hotel which was great. No more schlepping out to the bus with the masses. We got up fairly early the next morning and headed back. We usually spend more time in Asheville during our Bele Chere weekends, but with Mel's impending flight out of Nashville late that afternoon, we didn't want to take any chances. We got her there with plenty of time to spare thanks to good traffic on the way back. We want to take this time to thank Mel for coming half-way around the world to visit us and we hope she had a great time while she was here because we sure did!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chihuly at Cheekwood

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
After dinner in Nashville at Bosco's tonight, we took a ride over to the beautiful Cheekwood Botanical Gardens to check out the Chihuly Glass Exhibition with our friends, Mel and Sharon. We saw a similar exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens a few years back, but that was during the day. Seeing the beautiful hand-blown glass work interwoven among the living gardens took on an even more magical appeal as they were lit up for night viewing. We arrived just after sundown and began our tour as twilight was still glowing in the western skies. The 30-foot Saffron Tower (photo above) is the first thing you see on your tour, and it's quite an amazing spectacle. It's the largest Chihuly sculpture to ever be in Nashville. Dale Chihuly has always been one of our favorite artists ever since we started seeing his amazing work appearing during our travels to Chicago, Las Vegas and out to Seattle where we visited The Glass Museum in his hometown of nearby Tacoma.
The rest of the Chihuly Nights at Cheekwood tour found the stunning glass artwork mingled among the gardens (photo above), floating on ponds and, hanging from ceilings in the facility buildings. We sat for awhile and watched a great video of Chihuly and his team creating huge pieces of work live in an arena-like studio with a large crowd looking on.
This was definitely a great way to spend a summer evening in Nashville, albeit a bit balmy before and after a brief rain shower. Congratulations to Cheekwood for celebrating 50 years in Nashville. We hope to come out and enjoy the gardens more in the future.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Viva Las Kiwi!

We met up in Las Vegas for a long weekend to celebrate the birthday of our friend, Mel, who was enjoying her first visit to the U.S. from New Zealand. Ashlee had met Mel in L.A. a week or so before and they had been touring California before heading to Vegas. We stayed again at one our favorite places on The Strip - Treasure Island with a great view of the mountains to the north (photo below).
We spent Mel's birthday, Friday, Jul y 9th, lounging by the pool in our own private cabana (photo above) - a must-have in the 100+ degree temps of Vegas in mid-summer. Also joining us as a surprise to Ashlee was our friend, Brenda, who decided kind of last minute to come out and enjoy a little Sin City with us.

We got dressed for dinner that evening and headed south on Las Vegas Blvd. to another one of our favorite places in Vegas - the Yard House located in the Town Square Mall complex. We had to call it a night rather early due to Ashlee and Mel's early wake-up the next day for an all-day tour to the Grand Canyon.

Sunday we slept in and then went over to the fabulous Bellagio for their always-delicious Sunday Brunch with Champagne - yep, another Vegas favorite for us. We spent a few hours afterwards walking off our meals around the Bellagio Conservatory (photo above) and the amazing chocolate fountain (photo left) - a Guinness world record largest, at Jean Phillipe Pastry Shop. We then took a tram over to the new Aria/Crystals City Center complex to check it out as well.

Later in the afternoon - after a few wrong turns- we headed into North Las Vegas to find the Tenaya Creek Brewery to sample a few of their wares which were excellent. We got caught in a rare Vegas shower on the way back and probably should have followed the end of the rainbow we saw because there are plenty of pots of gold in this town, but it's hard to figure just where they are. After a little more gambling in the evening - but no pots of gold to report - we took Ashlee and Mel to the airport for a late-night red-eye flight that would get them to Nashville early the next morning so Ashlee could get back to work, and Mel could start experiencing the fabulous southern U.S. humidity!