Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page
My husband bought me tickets to the Jethro Tull concert in Minneapolis last weekend. Lest you think this was one of those “I’ll buy her tickets and then I’ll get to go” kind of gifts, I should tell you that he really does not like this band. Although we grew up in the same era, when we met in college he was into Billy Joel and I was into Pink Floyd. And Led Zeppelin…and Jethro Tull.
The band toured a few years ago and actually performed in Des Moines, but I didn’t go. I didn’t want to see this band — whom I’d loved so much when I was 17 and whom I’d seen twice in concert in Kansas City – limping along, a shadow of its former self (at the way-too-civilized Civic Center). I preferred to remember the rollicking, long-haired showmen I’d seen from the field of Arrowhead Stadium with thousands of dope-smoking teenagers.
Well, then I read the review of that concert and it turned out the band was still the real thing. I was sorry I missed it. So when the 40th (FORTIETH!!) Anniversary Tour of the groundbreaking album “Aqualung” brought the lads to the Twin Cities, well, that was close enough for a road trip to the past.
I think you have to be of a certain mindset to enjoy a band whose songs tell the stories of leering old men, uniformed schoolgirls, and the rejection of your parents’ religion. At least, those are my favorite ones. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the “Aqualung” album opened my 12-year-old eyes and dragged me headlong into puberty and a lifetime of questioning the “establishment.” Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of it.
Many of the concert-goers Saturday night were probably going through the same thing I was in 1971 when “Aqualung” was released. Some of the people in the audience weren’t even born yet when the album came out – not by a long shot. “Aqualung” wasn’t Jethro Tull’s first album or its last, but it was certainly its best.
One good thing about attending a performance by a group of men well into their 60s is that they value starting and ending at a decent hour. I’m sure, like me, their days of reveling into the wee hours of the morning are over. Our tickets said 8 p.m. and, by crackie, Ian Anderson walked onto center stage at 8:05. No fanfare, no opening act. And, they took a 15-minute break halfway through the show, presumably to pee.
If you’re a Jethro Tull fanatic I suppose you would have already known that frontman Anderson’s voice gave out years ago. I did not know this and, honestly, I don’t really care. It’s true that during the concert Saturday night he struggled to hit the notes of songs he’s obviously sung a million times. But I figure if I want to hear “Cross-Eyed Mary” sung perfectly, I can pop in the CD and crank up the stereo in my living room. On Saturday night, Anderson’s wrecked voice was that of an old rock star who’s lived a rock star’s existence. But guess what? He can still play a mean flute. Maybe better than ever. The band played all of my favorites from “Aqualung” – and some from their lesser works – and finished the second set with a rousing rendition of the title track. As we all stood and screamed for more, I turned to Dave and shouted, “I’m not leaving until I hear ‘Locomotive Breath!’” – the band’s greatest anthem of all time.
And then…the group returned to the stage and played “Locomotive Breath.”
It was a perfect night.
It’s been way too long since I’ve been to the Des Moines Arts Festival. I hate to even admit it, but the last time I attended, the festival was still on the bridges on the east side of downtown.
Dave and I arrived at about 6 o’clock tonight and the festivities were already in full swing: music on two stages, the beer tents buzzing, kids with free balloons. And, of course, art. I think in a way it’s good that I’ve missed a few years of the event, because the art seemed really fresh to me this year. There was some repetition by artists, of course, but there was a lot of variety and an abundance of whimsical design.
We enjoyed the emerging artists a lot. These are 22 young Iowa artists (currently in college or recently graduated) including several from Iowa State. Our favorite was Christian Vandehaar of Drake University, however. You can view his paintings of Iowa farmers at work at www.farmboystudio.com.
Between drooling over paintings I can’t afford and jewelry I can’t afford and the most amazing scissor-cut “drawings” I ever saw (and can’t afford), plus photography I wish I could do myself, I found some yummy food and good music at the arts festival. First, the food: I ordered a veggie pita at the Greek Flame Foods booth, which was technically not on the menu, but the cook layered a warm piece of pita with rice, olives, tomatoes, peppers, feta cheese, yogurt sauce, and lettuce. It dripped down my chin and off my elbows and was totally delicious.
The best music we found was Scars on 45 performing on the Aviva Main Stage. This band was fresh from Leeds, London, on a multi-city tour of the U.S. Des Moines was its first stop. They had adorable accents and were really fun to listen to. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to bring chairs, so we stood and listened to them for awhile and then went back to browsing.
It seems to me, especially this summer, that Des Moines is a great city to support these kind of events. The Arts Festival has incredible corporate sponsorship. Even the downtown parking garages offered free parking — sponsored by various companies. It’s a just fun to be in central Iowa this summer.
There is no lack of free entertainment in Des Moines during the summer. Especially on the weekends, you can hear live music all over the city.
So last night, since I figured half of the population would be attending Winefest, we decided to hit up a few of these events with some friends from Des Moines. We started at Gray’s Lake Park for Jasper Winery’s UnWINEd event featuring blues group The Soul Searchers. Gray’s Lake is a lovely place to begin your weekend, and Jasper Winery provided samples (and glasses and full bottles) of their wine as well as Madhouse beer. The audience was mostly young professionals and parents with little kids.
Moving on, we went to Rendezvous on Riverview featuring Brother Trucker. We would never have found this north-side event (it isn’t even listed in Datebook) but it’s one of our friends’ favorite places to hear live music in the summer. It’s a laid-back vibe with lots of little kids playing on the lawn in front of the stage. The organizers sell food and beverages in tents, along with T-shirts and other stuff. We ate homemade cream-cheese sandwiches and tried not to get hit with balls and Frisbees.
Our last stop was to Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines for the New Belgium brewery’s Clips of Faith Beer and Film Tour. Des Moines was the fifth stop on the tour, which includes 18 cities this summer. Isn’t it cool that they chose Des Moines? The event featured original short films, submitted by fans, shown on a huge outdoor screen. I expected all the films to be about beer or bicycles, but most were not. In fact, I’m not sure what some of them were about at all. My favorite one was about a group of guys who found an old picnic table and rigged it up to a couple of bicycles and drove it all over town. It was hilarious.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a New Belgium event without beer. The brewery offered their usual brews along with some I’d never heard of, like Drew’s Brew and PIPA. It was fun to be part of such an unusual event. New Belgium started out small, with an eclectic niche and high-quality products, and they’ve grown to become a mainstream brewery without ever giving up their quirky personality. I’ve visited the brewery in Ft. Collins twice now, and it’s a fun tour that has developed a cult following. If you go in the summer, be sure to get a reservation well in advance.
I’ve wanted to go back to Mt. Vernon ever since I read W.E. Moranville’s Datebook Diner review of the Lincoln Café in the Des Moines Register last August in which she raves: “Can a restaurant be perfect? The Lincoln Café comes the closest to such a thing as I have ever seen.”
Pair that glowing review with my memory of a charming college town filled with brightly painted historic homes, and you’ve got yourself a road trip.
Mt. Vernon is a cultural and historic gem just east of Cedar Rapids. The downtown area features art studios, antiques shops, an organic food store, bars, and restaurants. The town offers three registered national historic districts: the downtown business area, a neighborhood of Victorian homes, and the entire campus of Cornell College.
This is a thriving community that entices visitors with frequent festivals and events. Just in the past few weeks, Mt. Vernon hosted a “Chalk the Walk” festival and a chocolate stroll. Next up is the annual 4th of July Antiques Extravaganza featuring the Lincoln Highway Antiques Show and nine local antiques shops. It seems like there’s something happening all the time. Take a look at the community events calendar.
I can vouch for two of the antiques shops, having visited there myself yesterday. Alice’s Wonderland offered some great vintage finds as well as unique jewelry-making and scrapbooking supplies – not to mention several friendly cats. I bought some art-reproduction paper for a craft project yet to be determined.
Down the street is Polly Ann’s Antiques – a shop filled with one adorable room after another. I could have spent hours in Polly Ann’s. I especially loved the frilly, Victorian-styled bedrooms, the bright vintage kitchen, and the many other themed rooms filled with fun one-of-a-kind finds. I bought a small black-and-white tin for my bathroom.
Across the street from Polly Ann’s is a large community building that houses Schoolhouse Antiques, Room 222, and Enchanted Treasures. Also in the downtown area are Fuel, Wolf’s Antiques, and First Brick Antiques. I did not visit any of these shops, sensing that I might be overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to spend my entire day in antiques stores.
Of course, I had to eat lunch at the Lincoln Café and see what all the fuss was about. The restaurant boasts “honest food” with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. When I got there at about 1 p.m. every table was full. I nabbed the lone stool at the counter and ordered a salad made with pears, walnuts, and Maytag blue cheese tossed with fresh greens and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The Datebook Diner was right: It could not have been more perfect. The walnuts were toasted to perfection, and each ingredient came in just the right amount. Everything tasted so fresh…when I was finished, I wanted to lick the plate.
I also ordered dessert, described by the waitress as “sea-salt pecan brownies with buttermilk ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted macadamia nuts.” Who could resist such a thing? The fudgy brownies were cut into tiny bite-sized pieces and covered with homemade ice cream. I couldn’t finish it all.
After lunch, I definitely needed to walk, so I spent some time on the campus of Cornell College. Set on a wooded, 129-acre hilltop, it’s a lovely place to stroll. Cornell was the first college campus to be listed entirely on the National Register of Historic Places. Its student population is small – about 1200 – and the college is known for its “one course at a time” approach. The school was founded in 1853, and many of the buildings are from that era.
The residential neighborhoods surrounding the campus and downtown area are as I remembered: Many brightly painted Victorians and other well-loved historic homes with large trees and flower gardens. I took pictures of many of them, half expecting someone to run out to see what the heck I was doing. But nobody bothered me. Residents went about their business, mowing their grass and taking their children to little league games.
There’s more to see in Mt. Vernon and neighboring Lisbon, including a museum in each town, parks, art galleries, and specialty shops, but I decided I needed to head home.
Just west of Mt. Vernon is Palisades-Kepler State Park, which offers a stone lodge built in the 1930s, camping, cabins, trails, fishing, and picnic areas. I drove through the park and walked along the roadway for just a bit; I didn’t have proper footwear (nor insect repellant, nor enough time) to go on a real hike in the woods.
And right next to the park entrance, I spotted a small barn painted with a reproduction of American Gothic (and other scenes). It was painted by artist Mark Benesh in 2008. It’s really quite impressive, and a nice way to launch the scenic (if you don’t mind the road construction on Hwy. 30) two-hour drive back to Ames.
It starts out directly enough: Take I-35 to I-80 and head east. Just before you get to Iowa City, you take the 230 exit and head south onto a road called Black Hawk, then turn onto Black Diamond Ave. Then you turn on the, um, Orval Yoder Turnpike. That’s when I start to giggle. Turnpike? Really? When I think of a turnpike, I think of New Jersey. And believe me, this ain’t New Jersey.
This tiny, rural “turnpike” takes you to Frytown, at which point you connect with Hwy. 1 and head into Kalona.
Washington County in general, and Kalona in particular, are well worth exploring. The county boasts a fine collection of barn quilts, and the area is home to a large population of Amish and Mennonites. Their influence can be seen along the country roads, in the countryside businesses, and even in town.
When I arrived in Kalona early Saturday afternoon, my first order of business was to find a place to eat lunch. I found it at Kalona Bakery, a combination bakery/restaurant in downtown Kalona. The menu is small – mostly sandwiches and pre-packaged salads – but I ate my fill for a mere $5.85, including a piece of pie.
After lunch, I strolled through two of the town’s many antiques shops: the Pink Begonia and English River Antiques – both charming, clean, and filled with affordable, good-quality antiques. I also walked through the Kalona General Store, which has a little bit of everything, and the Village Shoppe – a great store for quilters.
I hesitated to spend too much time shopping downtown, because I wanted to get to the Kalona Historical Village, and it closed at 4 o’clock. For an entry fee of $7, you can tour the well-preserved historical village as well as the Quilt and Textile Museum, which is located in the Kalona Historical Village Welcome Center. The fee gets you a guided tour of the village, and I was able to join a tour already in progress.
The buildings in the historical village all originated in this area of Iowa, but all have been moved their present location, starting with the relocation of the Rock Island Depot in 1969. Now, visitors can tour not just the depot but the Grout Church, built in 1867; the Victorian Wahl House, built in 1892; Richmond Post Office; Straw College, a one-room school house; a buggy barn; log house; loom house; Amish Country Store, and “grandpa house.”
Our tour guide took us through the church, the house and its wash house, and through the Wahl Museum, which tells the story of life in early Kalona. The smaller buildings can be visited on your own. Each has a recorded description; you push a button and a mannequin “speaks.” I pushed the button in the first building, and the voice was way too creepy…so I just looked quietly around the rest of the buildings.
Back inside the visitor center (where the air conditioning felt wonderful after being outside in 90-plus-degree heat and humidity), I toured the two rooms of the quilt museum. One room features the “English” quilts – that is, quilts made by non-Amish – and the other room features the Amish quilts. Both rooms feature a large collection of spool cabinets.
By this time, the historical center was closing for the day, so I headed out of town. But first, two more stops: Stringtown Grocery and the Kalona Cheese Factory.
I had never heard of Stringtown Grocery, but when I saw a sign on the highway, I thought the name sounded intriguing. The store is run by Mennonites (or perhaps Amish — I find it hard to make the distinction when simply looking at how the individuals are dressed) and offers fresh baked goods, fresh produce, and an incredible array of bulk groceries and hard-to-find items. Some of the people shopping there appeared to be purchasing enough flour and oats to last through a coming apocalypse. (Perhaps they bake for a living?) It was indeed an eclectic mix of shoppers. One Amish man parked his horse-drawn carriage beside the store and loaded up on fresh vegetables and dairy items. A little girl in front of me was buying penny candy.
I was amazed at the variety of goods being offered in the tiny store: noodles and vegetable seeds and real vanilla extract; nuts and grains and baking supplies and dried fruits packaged into bags and plastic containers with hand-written labels; local cheese and butter; and spices galore – all priced very reasonably. I bought a cold drink, some smoked farmers cheese, and a bag of pistachios.
I saw a number of horse-drawn carriages during my visit to Kalona. Many of the local farms offer goods for sale. I saw signs for baked goods, fresh eggs, and garden supplies. You could easily spend the weekend just driving through the countryside. It’s a bit like stepping back in time — in a good way.
I am not the least bit ashamed to admit it: I am a Gleek.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, “Gleek” is the name given to fans of Fox’s hit TV series “Glee.” The show is about a high school show choir and its members, who constantly struggle to fit in. Characters in the show wrestle with popularity, sexual identity, teen pregnancy, alcohol, death, single-parent families, and many other “heavy” topics. In just two years, the show has been nominated for 19 Emmys and 11 Golden Globe awards.
But let’s be honest: It’s really about the music. With more than 16 million song downloads, the Glee gang has the distinction of holding the record for most titles on the Billboard Hot 100. They recently surpassed Elvis.
“Glee” is like a tiny little Broadway musical coming into your home every Tuesday night. I was really excited about the show even before Fox aired the pilot two years ago, because it stars Lea Michele, whom I’d seen not once but twice on Broadway (in “Spring Awakening”) and Matthew Morrison, whom I’d also seen on Broadway (in “Hairspray.”)
In the past two seasons, I’ve grown to love the other regular characters just as much as Rachel (Michele) and Mr. Schuester (Morrison). And other stars I’ve seen in their Broadway roles keep popping up as guest stars on Glee: Idina Menzel (“Wicked”), Kristen Chenowith (“Wicked”), Jonathan Groff (“Spring Awakening.”) It’s an absolute love-fest for those of us who can’t get enough of Broadway.
Last summer, the cast toured the country with a “Glee Live” show. This summer, it’s an even bigger tour. And when they announced that one of their 2011 dates included Minneapolis…well, my whole family Gleeked out.
My husband and two daughters and I don’t agree on very much. But we all love New York, Broadway shows, and Glee. We own every Glee CD (which seem to come out about every other week) and DVD. We’ve watched the episodes over and over. We talk about the cast like we actually know them. It’s probably a little bit strange.
We nabbed tickets not just the day they went on sale but the MINUTE they went on sale. The June 1 show was booked into the gigantic Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, so we knew we’d be seeing the show with about 50,000 of our closest friends.
So…the show was yesterday, and we were not disappointed. We sang, we danced, we screamed like we were at a freaking Beatles concert. We didn’t have great seats because the place is HUGE, but it was just so cool to be able to hear these wonderful young singers (and see them dance) in person.
Highlights for me (and, really, if you’re not a fan of the show, you should stop reading right now, because you will just get bored): Kurt and “the girls” dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” Artie getting up out of his wheelchair to do “The Safety Dance,” Brittany dancing to Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” (and Brittany dancing, in general), the whole ensemble doing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” while wearing those awesome character-revealing black and white T-shirts, and Rachel singing Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
I may have cried just a little bit when Kurt sang his sorrowful rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from the episode where his father almost died. Oh, and not only Blaine but ALL of the Warblers were there, performing “Teenage Dream,” “Raise Your Glass,” and “Silly Love Songs.” And did I mention the stirring performance of My Chemical Romance’s anthem-like “Sing”?
I could go on but, well, the whole concert was just fantastic. As my daughter, Katie, said, as she was jumping up and down next to me, “This is the most fun I ever had!”