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Party Like It’s 1969 at Soul Music Dance Parties

December 31, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Question: What do the 2010s in San Francisco and New York City have in common with the late sixties/early seventies in northern England? Answer: A love of soul music and of the only sensible thing to do in reaction to soul music—have a dance party. In the late sixties in Manchester, England, a scene grew up (the Northern Soul scene) in which DJs were celebrated for playing the most obscure soul records they could get their hands on. Not content with the hits of big-time labels like Motown and Stax, the people wanted songs that were written and recorded to be hits but just didn’t make it (records like Carl Hall’s “Let Me Down Easy” and the Cavaliers’ “Hold on to My Baby”). For every Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson and the Temptations, there were many more singers and groups who didn’t break through. But that didn’t mean their work wasn’t up to snuff. Many of the singers and groups who didn’t have hits were doing work that was just as good as the singers and groups who did. What Northern Soul DJs realized (a lesson that today’s American soul-music DJs have picked up) is that the records that weren’t hits have a fresher sound. Because they haven’t been played to death on the radio and movie soundtracks, people have a more immediate reaction to them.

Saturday Night Soul Party at Elbo Room: San Francisco, California

You get into this dance party for half-price ($5) if you dress up. That should tell you something. These guys take their dance parties seriously—and rightly so. In your mind, compare the image of a bunch of people dancing in jeans and sweatshirts with the image of a bunch of people dancing in pressed suits, flashy dresses, and shined shoes. The first image looks like casual Friday at work—not somewhere you really want to be. The second image looks like a place where you want to see and be seen. People come to this party to really dance. You won’t find any wallflowers here. Once the beat drops, everybody’s out on the floor getting down. This party has three DJs (DJ Lucky, DJ Paul Paul, and DJ Phengren Oswald), so you don’t have to worry about hearing the same style of record spinning all night long. They mix it up to keep the people moving. 

New York Night Train Soul Clap and Dance-Off: Various Cities

DJ Jonathan Toubin’s Soul Clap and Dance-Off combines an excellent night of boogying down to the best soul records with a full-blown dance contest. After surviving the freakiest of accidents (he was run over by a taxicab while in bed in his hotel room two years ago), Toubin is back doing what he does best. When you see Jonathan Toubin spin records, you can sense his love for the music and for life itself; you totally understand how he pulled through after his accident and got back behind the turntables where he belongs.

After a night of dancing, you’ll be ready to for some rest and relaxation back at the hotel. While Elbo Room and New York Night Train bring the old-school jams, Extended Stay America brings the old-school comfort. You get the sort of comfy accommodations you thought you could only get at home.    

The Best Skiing in America

December 23, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Are you a ski bum at heart? Do you love everything about a great skiing vacation—from cruising down the mountain to enjoying a sunset over snowy peaks? Then this article is for you. I’ve scoured the country for the all-around best skiing destinations in America. These are places that have it all—the greatest mountains, trails, and grooming and the most beautiful country. Get ready to read about a really good time. And be prepared—you just might feel the uncontrollable urge to make some travel plans.

Snowbird: Snowbird, Utah

Snowbird is as powdery as it gets. They consistently get more than six inches of the stuff once or twice a week throughout the winter. Skiing when the snow is falling down is one of the prettiest things around. And if you’re sticking around Snowbird for even a short while, you’re bound to experience this lovely sight. When the light strikes the snowflakes right, it’s more cinematic-looking than cinema. And Snowbird is easy to get to from most of the Midwest. You can leave Chicago at 8 in the morning and be on the Snowbird slopes by noon.

When you get to the slopes, you won’t ride up in any old, rickety chairlifts. You’ll ascend the mountain in comfort and style in the Snowbird Tram—a totally enclosed lift that will protect you from the elements and give you a panoramic view of one of the finest vistas in the world. And when you get to the top of the mountain, you will find that Snowbird boasts some world-class trails. There is an array of trails fit for pros (and, indeed, you can chat up some pros in the tram if you feel like it), and there are some lovely options for beginners and intermediate skiers. The Little Cottonwood Canyon, where Snowbird is located, is without a doubt the best location in the US for snow. Lots and lots of high-quality powder falls consistently in the canyon. 

Alta Ski Area: Alta, Utah

Alta, thankfully, is in the Little Cottonwood Canyon as well. In fact, if you’re in the mood to ramble, you might want to ski both Snowbird and Alta while you’re in the area. You really can’t do better for skiing anywhere in the country. This quality of ski destination inspires loyalty. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll start spotting Alta stickers on cars and Alta patches on jackets in your day-to-day life. The logo is iconic for skiers (in the way that the Independent and Think logos are for skateboarders). The reason that skiers are proud to sport the logo on their ride is that this is one of the most beloved mountains in the world. Why is it so beloved by skiers? For a few reasons. First, there aren’t snowboarders here. Second, the lift prices are quite reasonable. If you actually are a ski bum, you can probably afford to ski here. Last, and probably most important, the snow here can’t be beat. The snow at Alta is actually a bit better than the snow at Snowbird. But Snowbird is more posh. So take your pick. Or check them both out.

After a day on the slopes, you’ll be ready to kick back in a toasty hotel—maybe eat a home-cooked meal and watch a movie. Home cooked? Absolutely. At Extended Stay America hotels, every suite has a kitchen. And you can watch whatever movie you want, using the free Wi-Fi or the TV with DVD player.    

Two Museums That Rock

December 18, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Museums for rock music? What? How did that happen? Rock is supposed to be all about rebellion—living for today and not worrying about leaving a legacy. What about the famous line from The Who’s “My Generation,” “I hope I die before I get old”? Well, they’ve forgotten about that one. You tend to get kind of forgetful when you get old. The Who still perform “My Generation” (they played it during the closing ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London)—white hair and all. The first and the second waves of rock musicians and fans (those who came of age in the fifties and the sixties) are true geriatrics now. Jerry Lee Lewis is seventy-eight. Bob Dylan is seventy-two. As the musicians aged, they began getting honors commensurate with their experience. You will find many rock stars from days gone by honored in two of this country’s great rock music museums—The International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame Museum and The Grammy Museum.

The International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame Museum: Jackson, Tennessee

Rock-a-billy is the name for rock-’n’-roll played by “hillbillies.” It is a fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. One of Elvis Presley’s first hits, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” is a great example of rock-a-billy. The song is Elvis’ rhythm-and-blues-fueled take on a bluegrass song—Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” “Hillbilly” was at one point a term of disparagement, but as with many such terms, the group who was saddled with it eventually embraced and transformed it.

The International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame Museum (located in the heart of hillbilly country—Jackson, Tennessee) continues to celebrate the term and the music. At the museum, you will come across the only library of rock-a-billy videos anywhere in the world. You will not find your standard YouTube fare here. Instead, you will see obscure rock-a-billy footage that they do not plan on ever letting out of the vault. Making rock-a-billy’s connection to country music evident, the museum hosts a line dancing class Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Rock-a-billy is one of the first “fusion” musical genres. And it is very much worth investigating.

The Grammy Museum: Los Angeles, California

Currently at the Grammy Museum is an exhibit called Ringo: Peace and Love. The exhibit is all about Ringo Starr, the man who provided the backbeat for the most beloved band of Brit-rockers ever—the Beatles. Ringo’s life in the Beatles (who, it must be said, were much influenced by rock-a-billy) is chronicled meticulously and entertainingly in this exhibit. The artifacts on display are truly stunning. You will see drum sets that Ringo played on three very important Beatles albums (is there a Beatles album that isn’t important?): The White Album, Let It Be, and Abbey Road. You will also see iconic clothing (like Ringo’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band outfit) and personal things like letters and photographs. Last but not least, you will be taught to play drums by the master himself. Through a totally interactive video, you will receive a lesson on how to play drums with that Ringo touch.

After having a good time at the nation’s two most rocking museums, you’ll be ready to relax like a rock star. At Extended Stay America hotels, you get rock star treatment at a very reasonable price.   

Towns That Go All Out for Christmas

December 13, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Most American towns hang up some Christmas decorations during the holiday season. It’s a yearly tradition, a way of marking the changing of the season. It gives a town a warm, homey feel. A downtown without Christmas decorations in December would be an uninviting place indeed. Some towns take this tradition to another level, though. From over-the-top baroque spectacles to back-to-basics old-timey celebrations, there are some towns in America that do Christmas all the way.

Woodstock, Vermont  

Vermont is an especially Christmassy state. You can count on Vermont to deliver snow. Unlike some other parts of the east coast (from New York City down has been hit-or-miss snow-wise for many years now), Vermont consistently comes through with a winter wonderland. Visiting Vermont, you will regularly be treated to that magical new snow environment—the quietest, most peaceful environment I know of, when the sound of the snow surface breaking under your feet is seemingly the only sound in the world. It can almost feel like walking on a brand-new planet. Vermont also has a lot of pine trees. This is good for two reasons. First, pine trees don’t lose their needles. The abundance of pine trees cuts down on the somewhat desolate look of a forest of bare trees. Second, the pine needles fill the air with their Christmassy aroma. Even far from town, the air is redolent of Christmas wreaths.

Since the mid-eighties, Woodstock has put on a festival called Wassail Weekend. Wassail is an English tradition going back to pre-Christian times. During Wassail festivals, a hot, hard apple cider (also called wassail) was drunk. This ritual was meant to bring on a bumper crop of apples the following year. The ancient festival was all about conviviality. It involved toasting the health of the apple trees as well as singing to their health. This tradition was incorporated into the Christmas celebration, becoming Christmas caroling and the tradition of wassailing (drinking to the health of friends and family on Christmas Eve as well as on Twelfth Night). Woodstock’s Wassail Weekend involves festivities and a parade. Fifty-plus horses from the Green Mountain Horse Association march in the parade pulling sleighs, wagons, and surreys full of celebrants in nineteenth century garb. You will likely find Santa Claus himself sliding down Main St. on a sleigh, bound for the historic Little Theater, where he spends time with children. This festival reminds you how deep and time-honored our Christmas traditions are.

McAdenville, North Carolina       

The town of McAdenville has a population of a little more than six hundred people. But that small size is no indication of their Christmas spirit. This town is brighter than Las Vegas during the month of December. You can probably see it from the moon. There are nearly four hundred fully lit Christmas trees set up in tiny McAdenville, which has earned the title Christmas Town, USA. Since the town is situated on McAdenville Lake, the light from the Christmas trees reflects back to the viewer on top of shimmering wavelets. There is also a fountain out in the lake—decorated, of course, in Christmas colors. My description of this town cannot really do it justice. You have to see it. This fact should tell you, though, just how awe-inspiring McAdenville is: visitors to this small town of just more than six hundred number in the hundreds of thousands.

After a day of holiday festivities, you’ll be ready for a low-key night at a comfy hotel. You’ll get all the conveniences of home while on the road. The Christmas season is a time when you especially want that homey feel. 

America’s Great Independent Bookstores

December 9, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The death of the bookstore has been greatly exaggerated, to use Mark Twain’s famous words. Readers are not giving up on books. It is true that we are doing more and more on screens—reading and writing text messages, tweets, status updates, and blogs. But there is some indication that all this screen reading is turning people more and more into habitual (not just casual) readers. And someone with a reading habit is more likely to buy books than someone without a reading habit. In the same way that hearing a sample of a jazz song or a funk song in hip hop makes some listeners seek out the original records, seeing books or ideas casually referenced in blog posts or tweets causes some readers to seek out the source. The behemoth brick-and-mortar bookstores like Borders are going the way of the dinosaur, but the little independents are proving that they’ve got what it takes to stick around. They give you that personal touch (recommendations from someone you trust, author readings, and the pleasure of leafing through the book you are considering buying). Also, if e-books are your cup of tea, because of Kobo (a provider of electronic print content), it’s now possibly to buy books for e-readers in many independent bookstores.

Book People: Austin, Texas

Everything’s super-sized in Texas, and bookstores are no exception. Book People has three floors of book and periodical goodness. I’ve gotten lost in their shelves for hours and hours before. You can never leaf through just one book. There’s always one more book you’ve always wanted to read or another cover that’s too intriguing not to crack open. Book People is deeply rooted in its community. It has been in the same location in downtown Austin since 1970. The store hosts a number of book clubs, inviting the people of Austin (or people just passing through) to hang out and discuss books of all different stripes—from apocalyptic fiction to memoirs of comedians. Book People also hosts a number of notable author readings. December 17th will see best-selling novelist Amy Tan (author of The Joy Luck Club) appearing in support of her new novel, The Valley of Amazement.    

Parnassus Books: Nashville, Tennessee   

Parnassus Books has as impressive a backstory as any novel. Parnassus was co-founded by a great American novelist, Ann Patchett, author of the modern classic Bel Canto. After the very last bookstore in the city of Nashville shut its doors, Patchett decided, along with her business partner Karen Hayes, that she had to take action. Saying that she could not bear to live in a town without a bookstore, like the plucky protagonist of a page-turner, she decided to open one herself. Patchett really didn’t want to open a bookstore. She simply felt that she had to. Getting into a line of business that many have written the obituary for took quite a lot of courage. And this courage has paid off. Partly because of the publicity generated by Patchett’s name, and partly because Parnassus is a really great bookstore, it has been a resounding success. What a great story!

After a day spent exploring great bookstores, you’ll be ready to read your new acquisitions. There’s no hotel better for that than Extended Stay America. An Extended Stay America suite is like a mini-home. You can make yourself dinner in the kitchen, play some reading music using your free Wi-Fi connection, and watch a movie if you tire of reading. You don’t need to leave the room all night if you don’t want to.