Saturday, November 6, 2010

Knoxville TN

Knoxville stood there waiting for us to have lunch somewhere in it's quiet clean downtown while we wasted time just soaking up the sun and stretching our legs along Gay St ( insert obvious jokes here ). We sauntered as far as the river, and back onto market square where we finally decided on a place to satiate our growing appetites.

Cafe 4, we figured was as good as any , feeling a little o erwhelmed by the array of choices the square spread before us - pub grub, Thai and strictly vegetarian being among the many options. Sensing a slight chill in the air, but still enjoying the cloudless sky, we opted for outside seating with a hearty grilled cheese and tomato bisque, refered to on the menu as The Grilled Cheese Dip and dip we did. Mmmm. Also, the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and balsamic reduction ( dont know what that means) pretty much rocked our world. Service was super friendly and the hanging out stretched long until we finally decided it was time we explored some more.
Ok, Knoxville, what you got?
The Sunsphere (above), to give it it's proper title ( more respectful than my own description of "big goldy thingumee" ) was designed and built by a local architectural firm for the 1982 worlds fair, and offers a 360 degree view of the city and provides the skyline with something unique and instantly recognizable to the approaching tourist, incoming college kids And conference goers, all of which dominate knoxvilles human traffic .

Old city seems to be on the cusp of a Renaissance , with new bars and cafes nestled into the turn-of-the-century buildings, with an eye firmly on the college demographic; coffee shops, vintage clothing stores pepper this growing area, and somewhere we found ourselves popping into The Crown and Goose for refreshment. Finding the place virtually empty, we sat at the bar and tried their own house IPA, brewed for them by the smoky mountain Brewing Company.
The IPA was light and refreshing , and with a spring in our step , it was time to mooch on......hmm, we thought, so far so good. I'll bet the student area is SUPER- cool... Right?

Well, not really. The strip through campus where we expected to find the head shops , hookah bars , vintage clothing and killer vinyl was actually populated by all the major franchises and peddlers of plastic food and shaky tables. They were all here in a line, so if that's your thing, you just roll out of your dorm and into a bucket o' chicken for just SOMETHING 99!!! YEAH!!
underwhelmed by the over abundance of colorfully packaged nothing, we headed back into downtown for a stroll through it's oak lined streets and maybe half an idea to come back and say hi again sometime soon. Not least of all , to check out the Blue Plate Special. - a free concert from local and touring acts at the visitors center, hosted and broadcast every afternoon by WDVX . If acoustic music is your thing, check this one out, preferably live, but you can always catch it online.

From here we headed west through the Smoky Mountains to ......

Asheville NC

This, my second trip to Asheville, luckily allowed me a little more time to soak up the atmosphere and charms of this mountain town which has become synonymous with the arts and local artisans, as well as touring artists eager to put Asheville on their schedule.
As such, Asheville feels like a very mellow sleeping Gulliver, unphased by us langouring Lilliputians running along it's limbs, admiring the galleries , browsing the bookstores and slurping from the coffee houses along it's winding streets.
Actually , Asheville has an embarrassment of coffee houses, enough to inspire my wife to utter the words " man, if you can't find a coffeehouse here , there's something wrong with you." So true. I guess in such a throng of choices it pays to stand out , and arguably the most memorable coffeehouse is The Big Bus, the appropriately monickered London Double Decker forever parked and catering to all your caffeination needs on the first level, with ample seating on the top deck, just a thin spiral staircase away. "How long have you been here?" I asked the Barista, to which she replied "'Me, or the bus?", clearly a comedian. Once I'd sewn my sides back together she informed me that they'd been in business since 1996. Not bad,
And the coffee is pretty durn good.

After a leisurely noodle around the "Downtown Books and News" Bookstore - one of the best we've ever seen, we thought we should hook up with my bandmates; The HiBs. Hannah Flanagans sounded like a good spot, situated as it is close to downtown.
Once again , we walk into an empty bar, so with elbows on bar , we inquire of the barman, what's local and what's good? He points us at what is , in his opinion , the best IPA on the east coast , the Highland IPA from the Highland Brewing Co. Taking him at his word , I had to sample , and indeed found it to be most tasty. I wondered if our friendly barkeeper recommended everything this highly , as some might do in the name of dedicated salesmanship, but my suspicions were swiflty quashed when a girl came inquiring about a particular beer available on tap. " How is it?" she inquired. " it's crap." replied our dedicated bartender, without blinking an eye.
We basked in the honesty, quoffing at a leisurely pace, me on my Highland IPA, my wife on another local brew ; Pisgah Pale Ale, completely organic - even their trucks run on vegetable oil, a factoid I believe wholeheartedly as I heard it from - you got it - our honest barman.
It would be impossible to leave the subject of Asheville without mentioning some of it's many eateries . Every bit as numerous as the coffee houses , the streets fill with a variety of aromas from around the globe . Caribbean , Indian, Thai, and in a town populated by so many hippies, artists and loveable leftys of every stripe , a fine array of vegetarian options.

We grabbed a late breakfast at The Early Girl Eatery, who use all local produce and, man - the banana walnut pancakes blew my mind. Great food In a great atmosphere.

The next day , lunch at The Laughing Seed, a completely vegetarian restaurant served me a veggie Sloppy Joe that, according to my carnivorous buddies, beat the 'real thing' hands down.
Sometime after lunch , it was time to hit the road......

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It was August 11th. We rolled into Deadwood on the way east from a gig in Montana, and in that neck of the woods at that time of year the road is heavy with swarms of Harley Davidson owners heading to or coming from Sturgis; Harley Mecca, whose summer festival draws Harley owners in the hundreds of thousands.
Deadwood sounded like a good place to brush some road off just like so many ranchers, pioneers and gunslingers of the old west had done before.
The horses had been replaced by minivans and bikes, but the roadside pastimes of drinking and gambling are still intact, albeit in a more generic form ; the gut rot that once passed for whiskey has thankfully been replaced by a cold beer, and the sometimes violent poker games the like of which brought Wild Bill Hickock to meet his maker in this very town are only reproduced in museums. If you want to lose or win money here, your options are slot machines in the bars, slot machines in the hotels or , across the street, slot machines in the.......ummm......slot
The town itself is laid out on old cow paths, lending a relaxed, ramshackle feel as you mooch around the winding streets of historic buildings, shop fronts of western memorabilia, and bars boasting exhibits and some or other claim to various snippets of Wild West legend: "here's where Wild Bill was shot" , "Here's where the guy that shot him got shot", "Here's where he had his last drink".

Although that might be a little too hokey for some, for anyone with even a passing interest in the lore of the Wilds West, there are plenty of opportunities as you browse the crumbling photographs and artifacts to revert to the wide-eyed days of childhood, when The Lone Ranger not only saved the day, but rode the coolest horse ever.

It was a hot summer night, and after a cold beer to ease the saddle sores, me 'n' my pardner tipped our hats to Wild Bill and the town of Deadwood, and hit the trail........

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New York Mills, MN

New York Mills in North MN is small, quiet and interesting - a truly blink-and-you'll-miss-it, kind of place, it is the home of the ANNUAL GREAT AMERICAN THINK-OFF. Now in it's seventeenth year, the Think-Off ooccupies one summer night to pose one question for debate to three rounds of debaters. The audience chooses the winner. The 2009 Question: "Is it ever wrong to do the right thing?"

The Think Off is the brain child of the New york MIlls Cultural Center , and more specifically it's founder John Davis. The center is responsible fror bringing touring musical acts into the community as well as art exhibits and crafts from the surrounding area, and acts as a sort of Arts Oasis in this heavily agricultural town with vast expanses of corn fields in every direction, and at the time of my visit in October, huddled groups of deer hunters in flatbed trucks were either hitting the town's one bar for a beer on the way out to the woods, or hitting the town's one bar for a beer on their way back in. We watched them come and go from our bar-side perch, and as the cheap beer flowed and the loud '80s hair metal blaired from the jukebox it was hard to imagine that just around the corner on the main street stood the home of the GREAT AMERICAN THINK-OFF, but there it is. The competition logo is Rodin's "Thinker" sitting atop a tractor. It's motto:
"bringing philosophy from the ivory towers of academia into the lives of thinking americans."

I enjoy a place like New York Mills for the peace and quiet and the pace of life, where the main street is quieter than my back yard, and given that the town has one bar , two coffee houses and a bowling alley, with little else protruding from the landscape, not to mention a place to hear music and absorb art and craft, i'm guessing the locals enjoy it for pretty much the same reasons.