Sunday, August 30, 2009

Random thoughts from New York

- Just back from Yankee Stadium. I'm not sure I understand what all they spent the $1.2 billion on...I mean, it's a nice stadium, but over a billion bucks?

- It's amazing that more people aren't killed by New York City cab drivers.

- The closing down of the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue into a pedestrian walkway was a good move to assist with the mass of walking humanity who populate Times Square on a weekend evening.

- Favorite New York moment thus far--the creep who grabbed a baseball out of a small girl's mitt after the ball was thrown to her by a Yankee player. The ball thief had his small son with him. I wonder how he'll make that a teachable moment? (For the record, the crowd around this guy piled on with plenty of verbal abuse, New York-style.)

- The New York media haven't taken too kindly this week to Tiger Woods' lack of enthusiasm for the Barclay's Championship, being played across the river at Liberty National in Jersey City. Woods has been less then complimentary of the tournament. In today's New York Times, Woods criticized, in a back-handed way, the length of the course by saying "we're playing from the ladies tees" and noted that most putts were "double-breakers," meaning the greens were over-architected.

- More on Sparks Steakhouse: On December 16, 1985, Paul Castellano, then head of the New York mob and a frequent diner at Sparks, was gunned down outside the restaurant on the orders of John Gotti. Castellano and a key associate were lured to Sparks for a meeting with Gotti only to be assassinated by a hit team which included Vincent Artuso, Joseph Watts, Salvatore "Fat Sally" Scala, Edward Lino and John Carneglia. Backup shooters were positioned down the street while Gotti observed the carnage from across the street. The steakhouse then became a place where Gotti was to be spotted often.

"Rock of Ages"

The rock musical, Rock of Ages, is a fun time at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in New York. The show, which pays homage to 1980's rock throughout, features past American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis as wannabe rocker Drew--from Detroit, of course--who falls in love with "small town girl" Sherrie. Where's Sherrie from? Why, Paola, Kansas, once again sealing the stereotype of Kansas as a state of only small towns and "small town girls" who head to L.A. to make it big.

This musical is one of those newer, audience-participation shows on Broadway. Attendees are given a Rock of Ages light to use to wave to the music when rock ballads are used in the soundtrack.

The ending finale is, of course, "Don't Stop Believin'," the Journey hit which, while predictable, is a fitting conclusion to the love story of Drew and Sherrie.

(Note: The show contains adult language and situations. As the sign entering the theater notes, it is not a musical for those 14 years of age and under. Personally, I'd say it's not appropriate for those 17 and under...)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spark's Steakhouse

There are many steak and chop joints in New York. But, it would be hard to beat Spark's in midtown Manhattan.

Spark's boasts hefty portions of beef (a 14 oz. filet, for cryin' out loud), a good variety of appetizers, a tremendous wine list, and perhaps the best dessert on the planet--the berries romanoff. And, oh yeah, you can usually spot a table of wiseguys, sitting close by, who look like they came from a Sopranos casting call. (Spark's was a favored hangout of noted mobster, John Gotti, back in the day.)

Check out Spark's on your next visit to Gotham.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Favorite golf courses

I played golf today with my son and the topic of "favorite golf courses" came up. His comment was "gee, you should blog about which courses are your favorite." So, taking him up on that suggestion, here are my favorite courses which I have had the good fortune to play.

1. Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach, CA. This may be a surprise pick but Spyglass is a very, very hard course, yet offers both ocean/links-style holes and vistas combined with holes which meander inland. It is just a superb layout.

2. Ocean Course, Kiawah, SC. Site of the PGA Championship in 2012, the Ocean Course is considered by many to be the hardest course in the U.S.--it is a magnificent track.

3. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, CA. It's Pebble Beach--is there a prettier place on the planet?

4. Castle Pines Golf Club, Castle Rock, CO. Mountain golf does not appeal to some people but this Jack Nicklaus-designed layout is a hard, yet fair, test. The former site of The INTERNATIONAL, a PGA Tour event, it offered the longest par 5 on the tour--hole #1.

5. TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. I have played this course twice. What did I get on 17, you ask? A birdie once and an 8 the other time.

6. Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, SC. This Pete Dye course can be brutal, particularly if the wind is up. The finishing 18th is one of the better finishing holes in golf.

7. Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, CA. A classic, Los Angeles country club with homes of stars dotting the fairways. This is considered by many as the best course in southern California.

8. Barton Creek, Austin, TX. There is more than one course here so I'm cheating a bit by listing the entire trio of courses.

9. TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, AZ. Site of the FBR Open, the rowdiest golf tournamet on the PGA Tour, this is a classic desert golf layout.

10. Crooked Stick, Carmel, IN. I have played this course once and it kicked my behind. But, what a great course--site of this summer's U.S. Senior Open.

Honorable mention: Torrey Pines-South Course, La Jolla, CA; Westchester Country Club-West Course, Rye, NY; Branson Creek, Hollister, MO; Copperhead course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor, FL.

What are your favorites? Post a reply and let me know...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tom Murphy

A fitting tribute to a good friend, devoted father and loving husband.

Thank you to Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star for capturing the essence of Tom Murphy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Notice: On hiatus

Musings, Notes and Quotes is on hiatus for a few days. Please check back this weekend or early next week. Thanks for understanding.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary

As we’ve written over the past two weeks, this weekend represents the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival in Bethel, NY. And, this year, the anniversary of the event has found its way into a wide array of merchandising tactics—re-releases of the documentary on DVD and Blu-Ray; re-releases of music from the event, including “lost” recordings; two books, one by a founder of the event and another by a notable disc jockey from the time; and a feature film by Ang Lee debuting later this month. Retailers have incorporated the theme and late 1960’s look into fashion and merchandising.

Yet, reflections back on the event show a gap between perception and reality. To those who attended the event, it appears that the three days were truly a celebration of peace, love and happiness. To more dispassionate observers, the mud, unsanitary conditions, lack of food, massive traffic jams and less-than-stellar performances by the various music acts are recalled.

Here then are a few perception-reality notes from this event which gave birth to the term, “The Woodstock Nation.”

Perception: Over 500,000 people attended the event, paying $18 for a three-day ticket.

Reality: Estimates for actual attendance range from 350,000-450,000. And, once concert-goers began climbing temporary fencing and finding ways into the concert grounds, Woodstock became a free festival. Interestingly, in today’s dollars, that $18 ticket would actually be $106—far less than the $250 being charged for this summer’s Bonnaroo Festival or the highest priced ticket at premium rock concerts these days.

Perception: Woodstock represented the best music of the late 1960’s, with defining performances by artists like The Who, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and others.

Reality: The majority of the performances were less than stellar, as noted by no less than those who performed. Roger Daltrey of The Who called their performance “the worst we ever did.” Jimi Hendrix’s band was so tired from being up all night, waiting to perform, that they were lethargic during the two-hour set. And, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir were both jolted with electricity from their microphones while on stage.

Perception: The three days of close togetherness by the hundreds of thousands in attendance was violence free—a communal atmosphere where everyone got along.

Reality: Woodstock was a celebration of youth bonding together and proving that a community could be birthed, devoid of disagreement escalating to violence. Of the 109 arrests at the festival, all but four were for drug-related activities.

Much has changed in the 40 years since this major event of 1969. Concert films like the Woodstock documentary are a thing of the past. Who needs them given the ability to go on YouTube and find bootleg video clips from concerts? Buying albums is passé—we download the music we want now and take it with us, wherever we go. AM Radio, the driver of interest in music in ’69, is now full of talk shows, replaced by satellite radio in our automobiles—satellite radio which will feature a “Woodstock Channel” this weekend.

And, what of the performers? Sadly, many have died, usually from drug-related consequences (Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Tim Hardin, Keith Moon of The Who, to name a few), some live in relative obscurity, and others are still plugging away…and finding success in a business which has changed dramatically.

As a sign-off to this 40th anniversary celebration this weekend, we leave you with this from Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock, by Pete Fornatale.

“Twenty seven days after ‘Tranquility Base,’ on an untranquil sea of mud, there was a walk in space that 400,000 long-haired pilgrims in and out of sweatshirts called ‘the greatest weekend since the creation.’ It came to be known as the “Woodstock Nation.’ In search of rock, acid rock, acid, pot, peace and just being together, 400,000 Americans between 15 and 25 flocked to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York for a weekend with Sly and the Family Stone; Country Joe and the Fish; Janis Joplin; the Jefferson Airplane; Santana; Crosby, Stills and Nash; The Who; Joan Baez; and Arlo Guthrie, among others.

The festival was declared a disaster area, and if there had been a riot, the commission that would have investigated it would have probably blamed negligent planning by the promoters; lack of water, food, medical and sanitary facilities; and stormy weather. It would also have cited the abundance of marijuana, some hard drugs, communal living, and the exploitation of thousands of turned-away ticket holders who never got their $18 back. Yet, there was no violence and relatively little illness for a population of this size. Three people died, two were born, and in a rare happening, even the police got rave notices. There was some paranoia. The establishment was blamed by some for having seeded the clouds causing the downpour. Some critics of the festival called it an orgy organized by the communists. And the promoters ended up suing each other.”

This weekend we celebrate a festival which has been given iconic status in the history of U.S. popular culture.

Friday, August 14, 2009

John Hughes

We are a bit tardy here in not paying homage to director John Hughes, who died last week of a heart attack at age 59.

Hughes, of course, had major 1980’s and early 1990’s films like The Breakfast Club, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink to his directing credit.

Actress Molly Ringwald, star of Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink, had this to say in a New York Times op-ed piece about her good friend and director, “John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a 16-year old girl. I did some of my best work with him. How could I not? He continually told me that I was the best, and because of my undying respect for him and his judgment, how could I have not believed him?”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock stories: Jimi Hendrix

When Jimi Hendrix's name is mentioned in connection with Woodstock, the usual first reaction is to remember his playing of the Star Spangled Banner on guitar. The little known fact is that a small portion of the 500,000 in attendance actually saw Hendrix's performance.

Hendrix was the final act at Woodstock--a festival beset by massive traffic jams, torrential rains and thus long delays such that the finale did not occur until Monday morning. By this time, the audience had been reduced to 100,000-180,000--still a huge crowd but much, much smaller than the peak attendance.

The band was exhausted after having been up all night, waiting to go on. Hendrix, however, seemed to find some sort of energy from those who stayed to see him perform and played a two-hour set, the longest of his career. The blistering set ended with the national anthem, a solo improvisation by Hendrix which took band and audience by surprise. It became the musical symbol of Woodstock.

A year later, Hendrix was dead, victim of an overdose of sleeping pills which caused him to asphyxiate in his own vomit.

Quick Hits

- Sign of the apocalypse: A graduate of New York’s Monroe College sued her alma mater for the $70,000 she spent on tuition. Why? She’s been unable to find a job since graduating and earning a degree earlier this year.

- Michael Douglas’ son is in trouble. Cameron Douglas was arrested at the trendy Hotel Gansevoort in New York recently, in a room rented by his father, and charged with possession of $18,000 worth of methamphetamines with the intent to distribute. According to the New York Post, the young Douglas was “very strung out” and had been arrested twice before on drug charges.

- According to Bloomberg News, one out of 10 Americans is now taking antidepressants. That’s double the percentage that was taking them in 1996. Meanwhile, the use of psychotherapy is declining because of insurance company restrictions on payment. So much for mental health…

- Who would win a hypothetical political match-up between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin? A recent poll (Rasmussen) says that Clinton would win, 51% to 39%. Clinton does better among independents and women; Palin is more popular among men. Duh…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dive of the week

South of Denver is the town of Castle Rock, so named for the rock formation which you can see from I-25 which runs north-south between Denver and Colorado Springs. Head west on highway 87 from the Castle Rock area and you’ll run into a little burg named Sedalia, home of Bud’s Café and Bar. (The official address is 5453 Manhart Street but, be careful, you’ll easily miss it as there isn’t a stop light in Sedalia.)

Bud’s is a true mom-and-pop, small, quirky bar situated in an equally small town. But, its burgers are some of the tastiest I’ve ever encountered—piled high with pickles and onions. The beer at Bud’s is ice cold and the burgers are fresh and no frills. And, don’t expect to order fries, onion rings or a chocolate shake with your meal—all Bud’s serves is burgers, Lay’s potato chips, cold beer and hard liquor…and Pepsi. Don’t ask for any Coke products.

The cash-only joint is located about a driver and six iron from the southern border of the Castle Pines Golf Club, former site of The International, a PGA Tour stop. Players, caddies and fans all used to make Bud’s a stop as part of their attendance at the tournament, typically mixing with bikers and an eclectic group of locals.

Bud’s Café and Bar, Sedalia, Colorado—our dive of the week.

Quote of the week

In honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died Tuesday morning, we offer up this quote from her oldest son, Robert, who in a 2004 interview with CBS News said this of his mother, "My mom never ran for office, and she changed the world. Period. End of story."

Mrs. Shriver was the sister of President John Kennedy and Senators Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy, as well as the mother-in-law of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unlike so many others in her family, she never held elective office but had a profound impact on the world through her work to improve the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. One could argue that Mrs. Shriver's work, including the founding of the Special Olympics, was the most lasting of the Kennedy family's many works and special programs. In fact, her brother, Edward, said of Eunice, "You talk about an agent of change--she is it. If the test is what you're doing that's been helpful for humanity, you'd be hard pressed to find another member of the family who's done more."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Woodstock stories: Abbie Hoffman and Pete Townsend

It was billed as "three days of peace and music." And, overall, the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in August 1969 was just that...except for the incident involving Abbie Hoffman and Pete Townsend on stage during the second day of the festival.

The Who, at almost the peak of their popularity and one of the more marquee acts at Woodstock, took the stage at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, yet still Day Two given the schedule of the festival. Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle were about halfway through their set when noted activist Hoffman interrupted the proceedings.

Hoffman, who had been hanging out backstage, attempted a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. Hoffman grabbed a microphone and began ranting at the injustice of Sinclair's incarceration. Townsend, who was adjusting his amp between songs, immediately took his Gibson guitar and rammed it into Hoffman's back, then shoved him backwards off to stage right.

While Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle were momentarily confused by the incident, Townsend immediately launched into the next song, "Do You Think Its Alright?" from the rock opera Tommy, and the band quickly followed suit. After the song, Townsend went over to Hoffman--sitting on the right side of the stage with his arms around his knees--talked briefly with him, and then gave him a smack on the head.

Asked later about the incident, The Who's lead guitarist said he actually agreed with Hoffman about the injustice of Sinclair's imprisonment. But, Townsend said he would have knocked Hoffman offstage regardless of the content of the message. For Townsend, Hoffman's outburst had violated the "sanctity of the stage," that is, the right of the band to perform without interruption.

Unfortunately, the incident took place during a camera change and thus is not captured on the Woodstock documentary. But, the audio version of the incident can be heard on The Who's box set, Thirty Years of Maximum R&B.

For what it's worth, Hoffman was later interviewed on camera for the Woodstock movie and claims it was a bad LSD trip which made him interrupt The Who. And Townsend, when asked about the band's performance at Woodstock, reportedly snorted "F---ing awful." Awful performance or not, the incident made for one of the more memorable moments at this music festival of 40 years ago.

Quick Hits

- Nicole Kidman was in the cowtown on Saturday night. Kidman's hubby, Keith Urban, was headlining at the Sprint Center in Kansas City that evening and Kidman accompanied him on the trip. Taylor Swift opened for Urban--the two played to a sold-out crowd.

- Congratulations to our friends at VML! The latest Forrester Wave ranking of the top U.S. Interactive Agencies has VML first in the Overall Current Offering category. VML is a Kansas City-based agency which is part of the WPP global network.

- In other digital news, Microsoft announced that it has reached agreement with Publicis Groupe to buy Razorfish, the interactive agency that Microsoft has owned since acquiring the agency's parent company, aQuantive, in 2007. Razorfish will continue with its current management as an autonomous unit of VivaKi division of Publicis, according to today's New York Times report.

- The long-awaited documentary, It Might Get Loud, opens this Friday in New York and Los Angeles. This film documents the bringing together of three musicians who changed the face of music for their generation of guitarists and listeners--Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2 and Jack White of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. Directed by Davis Guggenheim (Inconvenient Truth), the film is about making music--what inspires these three, their musical methods and how music is a universal language.

- AMC has confirmed that this season of Mad Men will pick up in 1963. According to creator Matthew Weiner, the new season will deal with the themes of that year--urban renewal, sexual openness, atomic technology and, likely, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The new season kicks off this Sunday evening.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Helter Skelter

One of the most gruesome murders in American history occurred on this date, today and tomorrow, in 1969. And, the name given for the event by the madman who orchestrated the crimes came from a song by The Beatles, thus creating an odd juxtaposition between music, pop culture…and killing.

“Helter Skelter” was the term Charles Manson used for the carnage committed on this date 40 years ago. On that night, four members of the Manson “family” entered the home formerly occupied by Terry Melcher, an American musician and producer, and also the son of actress Doris Day. (Melcher, coincidentally, was also dating actress Candice Bergen at the time.) There, they encountered four inhabitants living in the Melcher home—one of them Sharon Tate, an actress and wife of film director Roman Polanski, who was away in London on a film project. Tate was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

The four Manson family members set about brutally stabbing and slaughtering the four and used Tate’s blood to write “Pig” on the front door.

The next evening the slaughters continued, this time at the residence of Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. LaBianca was a supermarket executive and lived in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles.

Manson accompanied five other family members to the LaBianca home and participated in the murders, which were every bit as brutal and indescribable as the prior evening’s. And, once again, Manson family members left a calling card—words written in the victims’ blood throughout the home, including the term "helter skelter."

Manson was originally given the death sentence but that was changed to a life sentence when California overturned the death penalty. He remains incarcerated and in March of this year his photograph was released by the California corrections department. His hairline is receding, his remaining hair is gray and a swastika tattoo could be seen on his head. Manson is now 74.

“Helter Skelter” was used by Manson as a term describing what he thought would be an apocalyptic war between whites and blacks. He interpreted The Beatles lyrics from this song on their highly publicized—and scrutinized—White Album, so named for the lack of title and white packaging of the double album. It later was used as the title of a book by Vincent Bugliosi detailing the murders which was turned into a television documentary in 1976.

The gruesome nature of Manson’s crimes and the cult-like quality of his followers, combined with the star power of his victims, made him a popular culture icon. While most were repulsed by the crimes, others like Guns N Roses and Marilyn Manson recorded music written by Manson. He had relationships with artists like Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys before it became apparent that he was a deranged madman.

The public was captivated by the family, the crimes and this self-professed “devil.” It was repulsion combined with fascination. That repulsion was perhaps best captured by Bono’s introduction of U2’s take on “Helter Skelter” on their live album, Rattle and Hum. Bono can be heard on the album saying, “Charles Manson stole this song from The Beatles. We’re stealing it back.”

Bugliosi was recently asked about the killings in an interview conducted for Newsweek magazine. He said, "In Los Angeles, it (1969) was a time of relative innocence. I've heard many people say that prior to these murders, there were areas of the city where folks literally did not lock their doors at night. That ended with the Tate-LaBianca murders. The killings were so terribly brutal and savage, 169 stab wounds, seven gunshot wounds. They appeared to be random, with no discernible conventional motive. That induced a lot of fear throughout the city of Los Angeles, particularly in Bel Air and Beverly Hills, the heart of the movie colony, where the Tate murders happened. Names were dropped from guest lists. Parties were canceled. No one knew if the killers were among them. Overnight, the sale of guns and guard dogs rose dramatically."

Author Joan Didion wrote, in her book on the time, The White Album, "...the 60's ended abruptly on August 9, 1969."

Friday, August 7, 2009

T.G.I.F. musings

Idle musings to end the work week...

- Why, at funerals where there is an open casket, do people insist on saying "doesn't he/she look good?" NO! They're dead, for cryin' out loud...

- Why do incoming NFL rookies use the "he's threatening to sit out the season" bargaining approach? I mean, do they really want to sit out the season?

- The new Payne Stewart Golf Course in Branson, MO is quite a track. Each hole features a story about Stewart from a particular moment in his career. The course architect was Chuck Smith with design consultation from Bobby Clampett. It's a tough layout--five tee boxes with the blue tees having a slope and course rating of 72.4/130 at 6,741 yards. The course is 7,324 from the tips but this is a course which places a premium on accuracy--not length.

- The Jonas Brothers were on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien last night. And, I gotta admit, I still don't get it. ("It," of course, is the whole Jonas Brothers phenomenon...)

- The pre-season USA Today Football poll is out. Kansas did not crack the top 25 nor did Missouri. Nebraska is #22.

- Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on Late Night With David Letterman was repeated on CBS tonight. And, it was just as weird tonight as it was several months ago...

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I lost an uncle this week—he passed away on Tuesday from a heart attack at age 82. And, his passing got me thinking about the role of uncles in our lives.

- An uncle is the guy who can get away with telling you an off-color joke or story, or the guy who may take you to a movie which your parents deem questionable. It becomes your own little secret with him.

- An uncle is the guy who will teach you a skill that your father may not have mastered.

- An uncle is the guy who can tell you a story which will cause his own children to roll their eyes, given the frequency of their hearing the tale, but which is new material for you. Uncles always seem to be good raconteurs.

- An uncle is the brother (or brother-in-law) of your mother or father, meaning he will have “dirt” on their behavior from a younger, pre-parent age. And, more often than not, he will fill you in on these immature antics.

- An uncle is the one who will tease you mercilessly about your involvement, or lack thereof, with the opposite sex. Yet, he’s the one whose approval you seek when you find “the one.”

- An uncle is the guy who plays Santa Claus to you or your kids at Christmastime.

- An uncle is a sounding-board, a counselor, a mentor.

I last saw my uncle this past winter. His wife—my aunt--had passed two years earlier. But, he had adjusted to life alone—surviving a bout with cancer, discovering nature photography, continuing with his woodworking, and deciding to travel north to visit relatives and seek out information on his German ancestry. He still loved to bowl, golf and fish. And, he visited his four daughters, and their husbands and his grandkids, regularly.

All this is why his sudden death is a shock but yet a blessing. I’m not sure my uncle was the kind of guy to linger here if he was battling illness--not when there were pieces of wood to whittle and golf holes to be played in Heaven.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mid-week musings

- You see it all in San Francisco. Spotted today--a panhandler with sign "Money needed for alcohol research."

- Pink's, the noted hot-dog eatery in Hollywood, is set to open a location at Los Angeles International Airport. A line is constantly in place at Pink's sole location on LaBrea, often with celebrities waiting patiently amongst the commoners. (The current menu features dogs named after Martha Stewart, Rosie O'Donnell and Ozzy Osbourne.) The news makes me want to fly to LAX just to get a hot dog!

- It's been a tough tour physically for Aerosmith. The latest news is that bassist Tom Hamilton will miss an unspecified number of dates due to recent, "noninvasive" surgery, according to a tour report. Prior to Hamilton, guitarist Brad Whitford had to sit out a month of shows after injuring his head exiting his Ferrari. And, in June, Steven Tyler suffered a leg injury which caused several gigs to be postponed. Here's hoping the band is healed by the time they reach Kansas City and the Sprint Center on September 1.

Woodstock stories: Richie Havens

No performer at Woodstock deserved more thanks from the promoters than Richie Havens.

Consider the scene: It’s Friday afternoon, August 15, and what was expected to be a crowd of perhaps 75,000 has ballooned to 300,000-400,000 people. Routes to the festival are clogged with traffic and that traffic meant performers were stranded in the endless line of vehicles trying to get to the festival. That included Sweetwater, the intended opening act, who could not possibly arrive by the 4:00 p.m. start time.

The promoters, not surprisingly, started considering what solo act they could put on stage—somebody who would not require a long set-up time and did not have a band who might be stuck out with the others in traffic.

Havens, who had no idea that all of this was going on, was back at the local Holiday Inn, hanging with a few other performers and organizers given that his scheduled appearance time was later that evening. He was summoned and quickly hauled out to a waiting helicopter in order to be shuttled over to the festival site.

So, it was Havens who was called upon to open this four-day festival—an affair which was starting late and with an attendance which had grown to astounding numbers. And, it was Havens who delivered—who took the stage in a long flowing caftan and white trousers, barefoot…and with a guitar. No one else was on stage with him—no bass player, no drummer, nobody—just Havens and hundreds of thousands of anxious fans ready to get started.

The original plan was for Havens to play a 20-minute set. He played that set, then another and then another. And he just kept on playing—no sign to come off stage, no signal from the crowd that they were growing bored with his performance. Far from it—they seemed mesmerized by the sight of this single performer. He tried to leave the stage and kept being pushed back. He eventually played so long that two of his band members actually made it on stage with him.

Finally, Havens was at a point where he was running out of material. An artist who performed both original material as well as covers from other artists, Havens looked out at the crowd and said, “Freedom isn’t what they’ve made us even think it is. We already have it. All we have to do is exercise it.” And, he started playing—improvising his song “Freedom” coupled with “Motherless Child.”

It was an electric moment and one that was captured in the movie documentary (clip attached above) about Woodstock—Havens’ hands and fingers flying over his weathered guitar, hunched over, voice impassioned, and the back of his caftan soaked in sweat from the two hour and 45 minute performance. The 20-minute set was now close to three hours long.

Richie Havens—opening act at Woodstock and the performer who perhaps saved the festival.

Beer in America

Last night my son and I ate dinner at Oklahoma Joe's, probably our family's favorite barbecue restaurant in Kansas City.

As we waited in line to pay, I eyed the lineup of beer offerings and checked out the Pabst Blue Ribbon, various Anheuser-Busch brands, Miller Light, Coors, Heineken and Boulevard Wheat. As I perused the selection, it dawned on me that only two of the beers were actually "American beers." Bud Light and Budweiser? Nope...owned by InBev. Coors? Nope, owned by Molson. Miller Light? No, owned by SAB Miller, headquartered in London. Heineken? Nope, of course not.

The only two were--get this--Pabst Blue Ribbon and our own, local Boulevard Wheat.

Sad, my friends...sad.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Walmart versus the Girl Scouts

Is it now Walmart versus the Girl Scouts? That's the way it appears as the mega-retailer uses its Great Value private label to go after other brands. This time the accusation is that Walmart has targeted that staple of American snack pleasure--the Girl Scout cookie.

C.V. Harquail, the self-proclaimed "Cookie Mom" for her daughter's Girl Scout troop, sampled two "beta" versions of Great Value products at the recent BlogHer conference in Chicago--a get-together of female bloggers from around the country. She claims to have immediately recognized the taste and texture as those of Thin Mints and Tagalongs, two of the Girl Scouts most popular cookie varieties.

"The exclusivity of Girl Scout cookies is what makes the cookies really sell," Harquail writes. "But now, Walmart is shoving itself in front of these little girls and knocking on your door to sell you their almost-as-good fake Thin Mints and fake Tagalongs, whenever you want them."

The obvious concern is that Girl Scout cookies are a fund-raising mechanism for the organization and the product has long held a distinctive place in the snack market.

In the report, appearing on, the Girl Scouts of the USA were not quite as pointed in their comments. Michelle Tompkins, spokesperson for the Girl Scouts, said other manufacturers have probably come close to the taste and appearance of the popular cookies. "I would hope that people realize," she said, "that when they buy Girl Scout cookies, they're also helping little girls."

Not surprisingly, Walmart declined to comment on the matter.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quick Hits

- Happy Birthday to Tony Bennett--the ageless crooner turns 83 today. No less an authority than Frank Sinatra once said of Bennett, "For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He's the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more."

- Kevin Costner and his country band, Modern West, avoided major injury at the Big Valley Jamboree, a Canadian music festival, when a major storm hit the venue. Billy Currington was finishing up his set with Costner set to appear next when a huge gust of wind caused the stage to collapse. One person was killed and 75 were injured. Costner and his band were caught underneath the stage but were just "banged up."

- Tiger Woods, major win-less this year, appears to be honing his game for the upcoming PGA Championship next weekend at Hazeltine in Chaska, MN. Woods shot a 69 yesterday to win the Buick Open. Said Woods, "I feel better. I know what I'm doing wrong. It's a matter of getting in the reps." That's bad news for the rest of the PGA Tour players.

- Pat Conroy's new novel, South of Broad, comes out next Tuesday, August 11. It will be Conroy's first work of fiction since Beach Music (1995.) Conroy's last book was the memoir, My Losing Season, published in 2002.

Want a Super Bowl spot? Give me a bid!

CBS is taking an unorthodox approach to selling commercial time on this season's Super Bowl. The network, according to Advertising Age, is telling advertisers, "let's work to create a customized advertising package around the event, then determine a value."

Traditionally, the Super Bowl broadcast network will pre-determine the value of a 30-second or 60-second spot and then begin selling. This approach by CBS suggests that the economy is taking its toll on even the most valuable commercial real estate on TV--the Super Bowl, which is annually the most viewed television event in the U.S.

One source said that CBS will seek $2-3 million for a Super Bowl slot. However, the network is telling potential advertisers that pricing will be determined by where the ad runs on the telecast as well as how much time is purchased. In addition, the network will work to package pre-game opportunities along with product/message placement within programming.

In 2008, Fox sought $2.7 million for a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl. Earlier this year, NBC went after advertisers with a $3 million price tag for its commercials. It successfully sold inventory early in the process but struggled to sell off the remaining 20% or so after the economy went south late last year.

CBS' strategy could work well if the economy picks up between now and the telecast in early 2010--naming a price now would only kill its chances of asking for more later on.

Dive of the week

One of our regular readers passed along her recommendation for a “dive of the week.” LaSalle’s on 5th Street in Kansas City, MO, on the outskirts of the River Market, gets the nod this week for the Poor Boy and Rich Boy italian sandwiches sold there. Located in the Little Italy section of Kansas City, LaSalle’s is a family place but beware, the joint’s only open during the week and sometimes they close just because they feel like it.

And, don't look for a website as there isn't one and news on the joint can't be found elsewhere on the web--probably the best present-day definition of a true "dive."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Woodstock stories: Chip Monck

Beginning today, I'll be writing a series of posts about the events and personalities at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair, held in 1969—40 years ago—in Bethel, NY. This weekend of music, performed by an eclectic variety of 32 different acts, became one of the most important events in the history of rock-and-roll...and U.S. popular culture.


During the late 1960s, rock-and-roll concerts always featured a local personality—usually a radio disc jockey—introducing the groups. The organizers of Woodstock debated whether or not to have a master-of-ceremonies before deciding that they would handle the duties themselves. They ultimately asked Chip Monck, best known as the designer of stage lighting at major venues like the Fillmore West and the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, to be the emcee. Monck designed the lighting for Woodstock and thus was part of the core group responsible for putting on the massive music festival.

It was Monck and his voice who became “the voice of Woodstock.” His understated style, and deep voice, kept the festival organized during the three days, even though the festival was anything but—the traffic jams kept many acts from arriving on time resulting in a constantly changing schedule. It fell to Monck to keep the audience informed and entertained, and to also provide announcements during the torrential downpour which came on day two and threatened the success of the event.

When the show finally started on Friday, August 15, 1969, Monck announced "Sit down, stand up, do whatever you wish to do, but we're ready to start now and I bet you're pleased with that. And, ladies and gentlemen--please--Mr. Richie Havens."

A few years after Woodstock, Monck found himself driving from Los Angeles to San Diego. He pulled off I-5 into a gas station and told the gas pump attendant (yes, in the days before self-serve), "Fill 'er up, boy. High test!" A few yards away, a hippie hitchhiker, who had heard Monck, yelled out in an awed voice, "That voice! I know you--you're the voice of my generation! My God, you're Chip Monck. You're the Voice of Woodstock." A smile crossed Monck's face as he eyed the hitchhiker, then pointed to the backseat of the convertible. "Get in!" he ordered, in his best Woodstock emcee voice.

Chip Monck--the voice of the Woodstock Nation.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Saturday night's alright for fightin'..."

Well, it's Saturday night and I'm not fightin' but I did think of those lyrics from Elton John's 1970's hit as I provides these musings on a lovely evening here in mid-America:

- Welcoming back our buddy, Ron Livingston, to TV: Livingston will star in Defying Gravity, the new science-fiction series starting on ABC tomorrow night.

- A robber was caught in Leawood, KS this week after his cloth mask failed to cover his identity. Seems the culprit, who was channeling Johnny Depp/John Dillinger (Public Enemies) by jumping over the bank counter, was recognized as one of the bank’s regular customers. Not the brightest criminal here in suburban Kansas City

- For Kansas Citians, Blanc Burgers is eyeing the Uno Pizzeria space on the Country Club Plaza as a location for the restaurant’s third restaurant in this area.

- The crowd at the Trace Adkins-Toby Keith concert on Friday night at the Sprint Center had a high skank/redneck factor. Where the Kenny Chesney concert-goers were a bit more fashionable in their western wear, the Adkins-Keith attendee was more likely to feature a tattoo and skin that had a hard time being contained by jeans and flimsy top.

- Catch this week’s great profile in Sports Illustrated on the Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzalez. I’m going to miss seeing Tony in a Chiefs jersey each week. So too will QB Matt Cassel…

- More on the Kansas City restaurant scene—lovers of Spin Pizza should check it out on Monday nights. On that evening the restaurant waives the corkage fee should you decide to bring in your own bottle of vino.

- It was only a matter of time—John Daly is soon to have his own reality show. The troubled golfer will be followed for six weeks by The Golf Channel. The show will chronicle Daly’s day-to-day activities including performances in tournaments and an encounter with celebrity golfer Justin Timberlake. The show will air in 2010. Speaking of Daly, how about those pants he’s sporting these days on the links? It’s another of Big John’s endorsement deals.

Trace and Toby kick it at Sprint Center

Trace Adkins and Toby Keith brought their country stud, flag-waving brand of country music to the Sprint Center on Friday night and, to the delight of the close-to-capacity crowd, hit hard at a lineup littered with songs about "hot mamas," beer-drinkin', bars, country boys and rednecks.

The opening act, Sean Patrick McGraw, played a short set to start the evening, reminding the crowd on more than one occasion that "you can find us on MySpace, Facebook, i-Tunes and there are CDs to buy out front." McGraw is an engaging sort who sings and performs in a Toby kind-of-way, so the 20-minute set by he and his Nashville bandmates did a good job of priming the crowd for what was to come.

Adkins played for approximately 45 minutes and sang all of his hits, save the newer "Til the Last Shot's Fired." When he walked out on stage, my first reaction was "whew--big dude." With his flowing mane of hair, his glower, and his tigher-than-tight jeans, Adkins can be a menacing presence. His stage presence, though, is one of "I'm here for you" and he aims to please the crowd. It's obvious that the ladies think he performs quite nicely, thank you. His songs were complemented by clips of his videos throughout the performance.

After the obligatory Ford long-form commercial, starring himself, Toby Keith hit the stage with pyrotechnics, his usual tight band behind him and a catalog of hits from which to draw. His set was close to what he performed the last time I saw him in Kansas City--songs like "I Love This Bar," "Weed," "I Ain't As Good As I Once Was," "Get Drunk and Be Somebody," "How Do You Like Me Now" and "I Wanna Talk About Me." For "Whiskey Girl," Keith recruited several local "whiskey girls" to join him on stage for a choreographed dance routine during the song. (Trust me--they didn't look like the "whiskey girl" from the song's video.)

Keith ended the night with a two-song encore--the expected "American Soldier" coupled with the flag-waving "Angry American." The highlight on the latter was that Adkins joined Keith on stage--two guys proud to share their feelings about those protecting our country and their patriotism, in a very unapologetic fashion.

The Kansas City Star had an article the day before the concert intimating that Keith may be on the backside decline that happens with any major artist's career. That may be--the arena was probably 95% full but it's hard to tell whether that was due to any waning popularity or just the reality of our economy. Keith did prove that he's still a very good, hard-working, crowd-pleasing entertainer. He may not be "as good as he once was," but he's still one of the marquee artists in country music.