Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World!
In one wonderful respect, the United States is becoming much more European. The summertime music festival, a mainstay of European culture for quite some time, is spreading across the US. There are now a bunch of festivals where you can see your favorite bands under an open sky. Seeing a concert in a hall is great for powerful acoustics and light shows, but it’s not so great for hanging out. Outdoor festivals are perfect for both—seeing music and spending quality time connecting with your friends. Because you feel a greater connection with the crowd, you feel a greater connection with the musicians, too. And since the musicians have a ton of fellow performers to hang out with, they feel more connected, as well. An outdoor festival is conducive to overall community in ways that a concert at an indoor venue can never be.
The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival: Manchester, Tennessee
This festival is imbued the spirit of the 1960s and the sounds of now. In fact, the spirit of the ‘60s at Bonnaroo is even better than it was in the actual ‘60s. Stephen Stills, who famously left the Woodstock Festival in 1969 after playing with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, in order to jet off to the Dick Cavett Show and talk about how great the festival was, declared from the Bonnaroo stage in 2011, in between Buffalo Springfield songs, that had Woodstock ’69 been as good as Bonnaroo ’11, he would have blown off the Cavett Show and stayed for the whole festival. Every year, the folks at Bonnaroo improve on an already great thing. This year’s festival, which takes place from June 13th-16th, features a startling line-up of legends who are as relevant now as they ever were: Paul McCartney, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Swans among them. There is also, of course, a whole slew of innovative contemporary acts: Mumford and Sons, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Matt & Kim among them. Then there’s the comedy stage, where you can laugh like a rock star to the jokes of David Cross, Bob Saget, Eric Andre, and others.
Lollapalooza: Chicago, Illinois
During the ‘90s, Lollapalooza brought indie music to the people in a manic, sometimes carnival-esque roadshow. Started by Perry Farrell in 1991 as an epic, rolling swansong for his band Jane’s Addiction, the festival introduced many teenagers to such essential ‘90s acts as Pavement, Beck, and Nine Inch Nails. Just like the people in those bands and their fans, the Lollapalooza festival has grown up. Like many grown-ups, Lollapalooza has settled down. No longer going from town to town to spread its rock-n-roll fairy dust, Lollapalooza now calls the city of Chicago home—taking place in spacious, green Grant Park, which commands a great view of Chi-Town’s skyline. Despite being older and settled, Lollapalooza is as hip as ever—if a little less hyperactive than it was in its younger years. This year’s festival features mope-core legends The Cure, Afro-pop influenced songsters Vampire Weekend, and full-on rockers Band of Horses. And since this is a late-starting festival, you can explore Chicago during the daytime. Rock on!
When the rocking-out day is done, nothing is more satisfying than laying your head on a comfy pillow and calling it a night. The perfect place to unwind and recharge is a hotel with the feel of home but none of the chores—like an Extended Stay Hotel.
I Love Los Angeles!
When most people think of Los Angeles, they think of the things that Woody Allen focuses on in his film Annie Hall—the weather and the stars. But LA has so much more going for it than that. Which is not to discount the weather and the stars—or Annie Hall. The weather is consistently comfy, just to Goldilocks’ liking—rarely too hot or too cold. And if you find it thrilling to see famous people doing regular-people stuff, LA is the place for you. You might see Ashton Kutcher buying a cucumber or Miley Cyrus rocking out to her iPod. But the stuff to do in the City of Angels doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot!
Hermosa Beach is the best place in the country for singles, according to Money magazine. So if you’re looking for love, or you’re just looking to soak up some rays on a beach that is not packed with families, this is the place for you. There is a classic beach-boy/beach-girl vibe here. There are enough shaggy surfers and fun-loving volleyball players to make it feel like you’re hanging out in a Saved By the Bell episode. Indeed, hanging out in Hermosa Beach, you begin to feel like you’re in a TV show. As on a lot of TV shows, many people seem like they don’t have jobs. Despite the fact that a lot of Hermosa Beach residents have high-pressure finance careers, they seem to be living the good life without a care in the world. That’s how powerful the laid-back vibe is here.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, is a space that is stunning both inside and out. Outside, the building looks, in typical Gehry fashion, like something you’d see on the horizon in a dream. Inside, the Yasuhisa Toyota-designed acoustics are truly cathedral-like. Angelinos hope and pray that when their favorite musicians come through town, they play this venue, because it is here that musicians can realize their full live potential. Just as Walt Disney was a perfectionist about the look and sound of his animated films (famously drawing far more frames than his competitors or experimenting with stereophonic sound not long after the invention of talkies), there is an obvious perfectionism about the Walt Disney Concert Hall—which was built with money donated by Lillian Disney, Walt’s wife. The young and exciting music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, will be conducting a program of Tchaikovsky and Carl Nielsen, played by the much-praised pianist Lang Lang.
LA Loves Food!
If you’re looking for great food at a casual LA restaurant, I recommend Food. Their no-nonsense name is indicative of the seriousness with which they take their craft. If you’re looking for upscale dining, look no further than Patina—the last word in fine French dining in LA. Conveniently located in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Patina offers the finest wines, cheeses, chocolates, meats, vegetables, fruit, and caviar in Los Angeles. It is appropriate that the restaurant is in the building where the Philharmonic plays, as its plates are simply symphonic.
At the end of your wonderful LA day, you’ll be ready to kick back. I recommend a hotel with everything you’ll need on-site (like a kitchen and laundry), so you won’t have to run out for anything.
Take a Hollywood Blockbuster-Inspired Vacation
Get ready for the season of blockbuster movies. This year, Hollywood is pulling out some really special stuff. A lot of people get down on Hollywood for working with stories that have already been told—like Spiderman, King Kong, and Arthur. But I think it’s really interesting seeing new spins on old tales. The same way that no two people will tell a story the same way (different people will emphasize different details, tell different jokes, etc.), no two directors will tell a story on film the same way. Directors are like snowflakes—all very different from one another. The movies they make, despite family resemblance, are like snowflakes, as well. This year, there’s a veritable snowstorm of great films to see. Two that I’m really looking forward to are Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) and Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger (starring Johnny Depp). In celebration of these two exciting films, I’m going to discuss vacation possibilities inspired by them.
Great Gatsby Vacations
Have you ever dreamed of visiting East Egg and West Egg, the rich towns on Long Island (the island that juts out eastward from New York City) where the action of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby takes place? Well, you can’t—not exactly. Fitzgerald made those cute town names up. But they are based on actual places. East Egg is based on the village of Sands Point, and West Egg is based on the village of Kings Point. If you want to get up close and personal with this area and its relation to the novel, I recommend the Great Gatsby Boat Tour, given seasonally by Great Gatsby and western Long Island expert Eleanor Cox. Cox will point out all the mansions and the yacht clubs on shore that date from the Jazz Age days of Prohibition, when The Great Gatsby is set.
The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, is housed in the only residence in Montgomery where F. Scott and his wife Zelda lived that is still standing. All the others have been demolished. This museum honors their life together as well as the writing of both (Zelda was as novelist as well) though photographs, paintings, letters, and excerpts from their writing.
Lone Ranger Vacations
A lot of the filming of The Lone Ranger took place in Cimarron Canyon State Park and in the town of Angel Fire—both in New Mexico. The film is the story of the Lone Ranger told through the eyes of Tonto, his companion. As Tonto is a Native American, the film tries to communicate a Native American point of view. In the town of Taos, only twenty-four miles from Angel Fire, there is a magnificent collection of Native American art at the Millicent Rogers Museum. Expressing the ways of life and outlooks of the tribes of the southwest, the beautiful objects in the collection were both practically and spiritually useful for the tribes who owned them. On view are a variety of baskets, clothing, jewelry, and pottery.
After a day of living the movies, you’ll be ready to kick back at a cozy hotel and maybe watch some movies. That’s why you want a hotel with a TV, a kitchen to pop some popcorn, and free Wi-Fi. That way, you can watch exactly what you want.
Take a Tasty Vacation for National Hamburger Month
May is National Hamburger Month. What a tasty idea! The hamburger, while it may have originated in Germany, like the hot dog (or frankfurter), is as American as apple pie. We eat hamburgers on every occasion and in many forms. They charm kids in their Happy Meals, and they are a welcome reward to adults for a hard day’s work. The burger has the unique distinction of being both extremely efficient and extremely satisfying. You don’t need silverware to eat one, or even a plate; and they can be eaten very quickly. Eating a great burger can make you feel like you just spent the day at a beach resort being pampered. You get that kind of endorphin rush. A great burger experience that nearly all Americans have shared is the fast-food burger experience.
McDonald’s First Store Museum: Des Plaines, Illinois
In 1955, Ray Kroc opened a little restaurant called McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois. This was not the very first McDonald’s. That distinction belongs to a long-gone hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California, opened by the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, in 1940. It’s not even the oldest McDonald’s still open for business. That McDonald’s is in Downey, California—and I will tell you about it shortly. The McDonald’s First Store Museum is a re-creation (as the original restaurant was demolished in 1984) of the first McDonald’s to open after Kroc, who took the company global and made it what it is today, took over. McDonald’s represented a streamlining of the popular drive-in restaurant theme when it opened. The difference at a McDonald’s was that you carried your food to your car yourself, and you got it much faster. This waiter-less form of fast-food restaurant thrived, and the traditional drive-in faded away. The McDonald’s First Store Museum has the original sign, adorned with the “Speedee” mascot, which represented the company’s game-changing assembly-line process of food preparation. All the original food-prep tools are inside, tended to by mannequins wearing 1955 uniforms. If you find yourself hungry after checking out the museum (a definite possibility), just head across the street to an operating McDonald’s and enjoy a burger or two—or three or four.
Downey, California’s, McDonald’s looks just like the First Store Museum from the outside, except it’s a still-operating McDonald’s. The reason for the old-time look at this location is that this restaurant was a rebel of sorts. It did not affiliate with the mother corporation until 1990, by which time it had already established its retro identity. It has been said that the burgers at this location just taste better and more authentic. And I don’t doubt it. True to tradition, they only serve burgers, fries, shakes, and sodas here.
Kansas Museum of History (Fast Food Exhibit): Topeka, Kansas
Kansas is responsible for a fair amount of hamburger history. The very first chain to specialize in this wonderful food, White Castle, began in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921. The fast-food ball got rolling with White Castle (which had uniform restaurants and cooking methods 20 years before McDonald’s was the dream of the McDonald brothers). You’ll learn quite a lot at this exhibit about Kansas’ outsized role in the fast-food revolution and work up quite an appetite.
After investigating the hamburger (and eating one or two, of course!) and the interesting history of fast food in the US, you’ll be ready to experience another modern innovation—the convenient, amenity-rich, inexpensive hotel. The best example of this American innovation is Extended Stay Hotels.
Philadelphia Is an All-American City
Philadelphia is foundational for our country. It was a center of learning and progress before the Revolution—largely because of the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, who founded the country’s first lending library and fire department in Philadelphia, as well as societies for the promotion of civic and intellectual virtues. There is a staggering amount of history and culture in Philadelphia—a city whose grid layout provided the blueprint for a number of other great American cities. Its historical charms, though plentiful, are not its only features. You can really feel the love in Philadelphia. There is a lot of hometown pride, and Philadelphians love to show their city off to visitors. It is not for nothing that Philadelphia translates to “the city of brotherly love.”
Philadelphia is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation, with a sizable African American community. Forty-three percent of the residents of the city are black. Philly has a long history of vibrant black culture—particularly music. From John Coltrane and Sun Ra to the Philly soul of the 1970s through the Philly neo-soul of the ‘90s and 2000s and the city’s vibrant hip-hop scene spearheaded by The Roots, Philadelphia has contributed to black music as much as any American city. Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection is an exhibition that concerns the importance of African American music in American culture at large. Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, has curated this exhibit—making it a very personal exploration of a very public phenomenon. Somewhat like the film The Runaways (which was about the band The Runaways and about the coming of age of a member of that band, Cherie Currie), this exhibit chronicles both the rise of The Supremes (notable for hits like “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”) and Wilson’s coming into her own. Through The Supremes’ clothing (which is stunning), photographs, 1960s news articles, and obscure film footage, the story unfolds with the grace of a top-notch biopic.
You’ve got to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the “Rocky Steps”—the iconic steps that Rocky Balboa runs up in Rocky, the song “Gonna Fly Now” seemingly impelling him. The metal likeness of Rocky that was featured at the top of the steps in Rocky III, to symbolize the fact that Rocky was no longer an underdog, is now located at their bottom (perhaps symbolizing the fact that Rocky will forever be our underdog hero). After you pose for a photo with the brazen Rocky and run up the stairs singing “Gonna Fly Now” to yourself, it’s worth checking out the museum.
The exhibit The Art of Golf is timely and unique. Timed to coincide with the U.S. Open, which takes place in Ardmore, Pennsylvania this year, this exhibition can only benefit from the excitement over the return of Tiger Woods to the top of the game. The central work of art in the exhibition is Charles Lees’ painting The Golfers, which depicts the sport as it was played in the mid-nineteenth century in Scotland (which is the land of the sport’s birth and development).
After a day soaking up all of Philadelphia’s cultural and historical wonders, you’ll likely be ready to indulge in some family time. The ideal place for that is an Extended Stay Hotel—where every suite has, free of charge, a kitchen, a flatscreen TV, and Wi-Fi.
Nashville, Tennessee: The Country Music Capital of the World
Country music is music of the world now. What started out as the favorite sounds of rural Southerners is now loved the globe over. No matter how far and wide country music roams, though, its heart will always live in Nashville, Tennessee. Country music’s 1927 birth (nicknamed its “big bang”)—the first recording sessions for both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family—took place in Bristol, Tennessee, 300 miles west of Nashville (and there is a museum being built there to commemorate country’s very early years). While country music was not born in Nashville, it most certainly did grow up and learn the facts of life there. Just as aspiring actors go to Hollywood, aspiring country musicians go to Nashville. It is the heartbeat and lodestar of American country music.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
This is not just your average, moldy museum. It’s the living record of a music that is very much alive and kicking (in its cowboy boots). There is currently an exciting exhibit on Patsy Cline’s brief but quite popular and influential career called Patsy Cline: Crazy for Loving You. Rocketing to fame on the strength of now-legendary recordings like “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy,” Patsy Cline was a glamorous country star who had it all—gracefully balancing the fast-paced world of recording and touring with married life and motherhood. This exhibit takes you into Cline’s world through her letters, her clothes, photographs of her, and—of course—her amazing songs.
Another exhibit not to be passed by is The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. In the 1950s and ‘60s, a vibrant country music scene sprung up in California’s Central Valley—the result of the influx of migrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas during the Dust Bowl years. The Bakersfield country sound was raw and propulsive—akin to the music of Johnny Cash and the “outlaw” country sound of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. This exhibit tells the story of how Merle Haggard and Buck Owens turned their lives around with music. Haggard’s troubled youth ended in a stretch in San Quentin Prison. While in prison, he saw Johnny Cash perform, and he made a pledge to turn his life around. Buck Owens grew up in a poor sharecropping family but determined that he would not stay poor long. Jumping into the Bakersfield country scene in 1951, he quickly achieved success—first as a session guitarist then as a solo artist.
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is the most venerable, legendary country venue in the country. The weekly radio shows that were broadcast from the venue starting all the way back in the late ‘20s documented the beginnings and evolution of country music. Everybody who’s anybody in country music history has played at the Opry—Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Brad Paisley, and on and on and on.
After your day deep in the heart of country music is through, you’ll likely want to head back to a casual, comfortable hotel where you can discuss the day’s events. At Extended Stay Hotels, you get a world-class suite with kitchen, flatscreen TV, Wi-Fi, and a grab-and-go breakfast all for an affordable price.