Sea Scallops and Shrimp in Jamaican Curry Sauce Warm A Chilly Valentine’s Day

A cold snap gripped the central Kentucky region on Valentine’s Day. Residents awoke to snow flurries and a balmy 15 degrees. This necessitated hearts grow fonder if for nothing else than to keep warm on such a chilly morning.

Valentine’s Day may be primarily a figment of the greeting card industry’s imagination, but it has its fun aspects as well. There’s nothing wrong with expressing to those special people in our lives, that we appreciate them, however that may come about.

My daughter Isabella, 7, put serious effort into selecting cards and a candy surprise for all her classmates. A little personalized doodling goes a long way. The first words she uttered Friday morning, with eyes still closed, was “It’s Valentine’s Day,” as a grin spread across her face.

It’s an excellent day to be indulgent. Whether that be love, hugs, food or drink – go for it. The kids and I picked out flowers, cards and wine for their mom. I took it upon myself to come up with a meal that would complement the situation. I needed something all would appreciate, and an offering that hopefully would warm our hearts.

In a previous life I resided in Washington, DC. In the early 1990s there was a fantastic lofi Caribbean restaurant located in the lower Georgetown neighborhood called the Hibiscus Cafe. It was brilliantly painted, served white tablecloth level food at a fraction of the price and spread the love of the Caribbean people through its cuisine.

The following recipe was one of my favorites from Chef Sharon Banks. My apologies to Chef Banks for any liberties I took riffing off her original. It’s nothing but love.

I approach “Sea Scallops and Shrimp in Jamaican Curry Sauce” in the same way I do gumbo or jambalaya from down New Orleans way. There’s wiggle room for a pinch of this and a pinch of that to satisfy experimentation, and the dish will turn out just fine. It can be an everyday meal, or dressed up for special occasions. It’s one of those core types of menu offerings from a region, like gumbo in Louisiana, that is more than just food. It speaks to a region’s culture and is bursting with pride. This was just the ticket for a chilly Valentine’s Day dinner.

Sea Scallops and Shrimp in Jamaican Curry Sauce

1 Pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 Pound sea scallops

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 Tablespoon Old Bay seasoning or to taste

6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Sweet onion

1 Tomato diced

3 Teaspoons Indian curry powder

2 1/2 Cups chicken stock

3 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1 Sprig fresh thyme

1 Habanero chili pepper (optional)

1/2 Cup coconut milk

1 Cup jasmine rice (uncooked)

1 Loaf sweet Italian bread

1 Bottle Sauvignon Blanc (chilled)

#     #     #

Turn oven on to 250 degrees.

Place the remaining 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock, along with coconut milk in a pan on the stove over medium high heat, or same in rice steamer. Add rice once contents reach boiling and cook according to package instructions. Add additional coconut milk if necessary. Salt and pepper to taste. Usually cooks for 20 minutes or so. Set to the side with lid on to keep warm.

Season shrimp and scallops with salt, pepper and Old Bay. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil, and melt 4 tablespoons butter, in a skillet over medium heat. Add seafood to skillet, cooking for 3 minutes on each side, or until just cooked through. Transfer seafood to a platter and keep warm.

Dice the tomato and onion. Add remaining olive oil and butter to skillet. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes, add tomato and sauté another 3-4 minutes. Add the curry powder, stirring for a couple minutes.

Pour in 1 cup of chicken stock, stir and bring to a light boil. Dice the habanero pepper, discarding the internal seeds. Be careful as those with sensitive skin might feel a slight burn when handling this once cut. Do not wipe your eyes until having thoroughly washed and dried hands. Add the pepper to the skillet (optional). Let the mixture simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Pour the contents of the skillet into a blender and purée until smooth. Add the heavy whipping cream and pulse for a few times to blend into the sauce.

Take the sweet Italian bread and cut in half. Butter both sides, and sprinkle lightly with garlic, salt and pepper. Place into oven on cookie sheet and bake 5-10 minutes.

Pour the sauce back into the skillet over low heat and add the sprig of thyme (dried thyme is fine if fresh was not available). Let warm for 3-4 minutes. Taste and adjust with salt/pepper/Old Bay. Add seafood back into sauce, stir, and warm for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Place a serving of rice onto the center of a plate, and spoon the seafood and sauce mixture around it. This works great in a bowl as well (especially for kids). Place the rice in the bottom of a bowl and spoon a serving of the seafood and sauce mixture over the rice.

Serve with bread, and a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Kisses & Hugs – Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Posted in Events, Family, Food, Liquor, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Super Bowl Eve of Cooking

Nachos!

It was a dogfight in Auburn Saturday night for the Kentucky Wildcats. A fitting apéritif for the Bowl of all Bowls Sunday evening. Really psyched to watch Kansas City and San Francisco with everything on the line. New quarterbacks. New teams. Both scoring machines who employ opportunistic defenses. Let the games begin.

In honor of the Super Bowl, I got my cook on. Saturday evening found me simultaneously prepping three different meals, dinner for that night, the Super Bowl Mexican spread, and chicken & andouille sausage gumbo for Monday.

Preparation for the gumbo required the cooking of a fourth meal. The chicken stock was put together from scratch. That takes a whole chicken going into the oven, harvesting the cooked meat, then using the bones in a stock, built to showcase the gumbo.

Steaks in Brazilian marinade.

Saturday was all about steaks. I selected two 2.5 pound sirloin fillets, dredged them in a Brazilian steakhouse marinade, and served with twice baked potatoes.

With the potatoes out of the oven, I switched to broil and cooked both steaks to a medium rare perfection in 12 minutes. One was for dinner, the other would be re-purposed in fajitas Sunday. We have a family tradition of going full-on Mexican for the Super Bowl, loaded nachos with steak & chicken fajitas.

With the steaks served, and all campers fat and happy, I proceeded to chill out on the couch for a few hours, and work my numbing skills. I dropped the temp in the oven to 350, and popped in our chicken friend for an hour plus. He smelled delicious. Now the chicken needed time to cool down before I could render the meat from his bones without burning myself.

One whole chicken ready to be dismantled.

Around 3AM I got a third wind. For whatever reason, I had a morbid curiosity in watching the Australian Open men’s final, which came on live from Melbourne at 3:30AM. All this athletic prowess gave me the energy boost to get up and throw together the chicken stock for my gumbo. The longer the flavors steep the tastier the end product.

CHICKEN STOCK: 2 pounds chicken bones; 6 quarts water; peeled carrots; chopped onion; chopped celery with leaves; chopped fresh parsley; fresh thyme; 1 bay leaf; salt; black pepper; and white pepper.

Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Roughly peel and chop produce before adding to water. Be generous in the proportions. While waiting for the stock to boil, turn to our chicken friend, and pull off the wings and legs, removing skin and meat, but leaving tendon and hunks of meat that don’t immediately release. It’s best to leave a decent amount of the meat on the bone, to increase flavor in the stock. Pick the bird clean.

Chicken stock, with bones, simmering down.

With the meat removed and placed into a container, place the carcass and other bones onto a cooking sheet. Place this into the oven for 15-20 minutes, till bones and such are browned.

Once finished, dump the bones into the stock and stir. Place a lid offset on the stockpot and allow the liquid to simmer down half way from its original total. I managed to stay intermittently conscious until a god-awful hour of the morning, keeping tabs on the Australian Open. Novak Djokovic outlasted Dominic Thiem in five sets to win his 17th major title.

By the time this was over, I pulled my stock from the burner and placed it outside on the carport, with lid in place. It can sit out there for a day and steep. I’ll place something heavy on the lid to keep any curious critters from investigating.

I went to bed after that for a few hours.

I awoke to Mexican Sunday around 11:30AM. The Super Bowl was kicking today. It might as well be a holiday. In that spirit I made the executive decision to dispense with any usual protocols for a Sunday that might hinder or otherwise constrain perceived merriment. Why not crack a beer with our coffee…

I turned my thoughts to fajitas. These things are a blast to make, and put a delicious aroma into a kitchen. I broke out my grandfather’s carving knife set. Love getting this out. The vibes are excellent. Spiking the meat with the carving fork, I shaved diagonally down the face of the sirloin cutlet. It was like butter.

Fajitas are up!

Chopped chicken from our midnight bird was added to the steak, and both were placed into a sauté pan containing a dense fajita marinade. As the meats warmed, I sliced the onion, red pepper and yellow pepper into thin strips. This combo was sautéed in vegetable oil, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper till tender. With that the fajitas were straight. Accent with cheese and salsa if preferred.

The nachos required shredding two pounds of ground beef and cooking it through; drain fat, and spice with taco seasoning; simmer until cooked down; layer bottom of casserole dish with one bag of Tostitos, topping with ground beef, black olives and shredded cheese; repeat the same for a second layer; place in oven at 275 degrees for 20 minutes; and serve. Done and done. Just don’t fall asleep during the game.

The chicken stock continued to steep into Monday. I’ll drain the stock after work, and assemble the gumbo.

Hope everyone got their cooking finished, and enjoyed the football and festivities!

Posted in Events, Family, Food, Liquor, Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

KitchenAid High Efficiency Dishwasher Cleans Like A Champ

The KitchenAid model KDPE234GPS dishwasher.

Few things adversely impact family life faster than having a dishwasher go “Out-of-Service.” My crew is a family of five. The speed in which our dishes go from clean and stowed, to dirty and cluttering countertops, is faster than a rabbit hopping through an illicit carrot patch.

The archaic dishwasher that came with the house I recently purchased died within two weeks of it being put to serious work. The house dates to 1960, and it appeared this unit might be from around that same year.

While there can be a therapeutic nature to washing dishes by hand, it adds a tremendous amount of time to cleaning up after meals. It didn’t help matters that the task of dish washing  fell primarily to our two teenage boys. Motivating them to stay on top of this chore went about as smooth as you can imagine.

This quickly got me researching dishwashers. I needed to get up to speed on brands, features and ultimately what machine held the highest quality in my price range.

After reading reviews and visiting Lowe’s, I found it prudent to remove brands such as Bosch from consideration. Upscale lines such as these often rate high on year-end reviews, but come with a hefty price tag.

Third rack availability for larger utensils.

Likewise Samsung and LG, which have made significant inroads into the appliance market, were taken off my list. Both are feature-laden brands. Which means there is more stuff that breaks. Both brands log significant service calls, it takes longer for replacement parts to ship, and technicians are less willing to work on these dishwashers.

I found it interesting that in new home construction and kitchen remodels, contractors and consumers predominantly lean toward installing the same brand of appliances for all their kitchen needs. While this may guarantee a seamless aesthetic appearance, few brands do everything well. This was quickly apparent after speaking to service reps, repair techs or from simply reading feedback about individual brands.

After careful consideration, the features I found essential to have in a new dishwasher model included: low noise; nylon-coated racks; soil sensor; stainless-steel tub; top controls; energy efficient; and a third rack.

With these features in mind, and that a stainless-steel front was preferred, I quickly narrowed to three brands, one model from each: KitchenAid (KDPE234GPS),  Maytag (MDB8989SHZ) and Whirlpool (WDT970SAHZ).

The three interior racks of the KitchenAid.

Unbeknownst to me, Whirlpool manufactured all three of these lines, with KitchenAid being its premium label. This was evident during my compare/contrast of each, with the similar design and feature options seen. All three are solid machines. Each were recommended by more than 90 percent of those who purchased them.

Maytag was the first eliminated from contention. It featured a four-blade food chopper or masticator, which is interesting but a bit overkill for generic plate debris. It’s also something else to break. To Maytag’s credit it backed the four-blade chopper, along with the stainless-steel tub and racks, with a 10-year warranty, but masticators add noise, and I preferred the unit be as quiet as possible.

The Whirlpool got my mom’s seal of approval (and by the way, mad props to Mom for all her valuable input). I liked this Whirlpool unit a lot. The silverware holder was located in the door, freeing up more interior space. Also, it was the least expensive of the three units at $579.

The KitchenAid’s jet-wash applicator and filter system.

Ultimately KitchenAid won out. It’s a beautifully constructed unit. The stainless exterior is accented by a black pocket handle, offering a completely smooth front. This was particularly of interest to me, as an adjacent drawer to the right of the dishwasher was unable to open past the handle of the old unit. With the KitchenAid’s pocket handle, full use of this drawer was regained. The exterior of this black pocket handle also features a digital readout of the dishwasher’s progress when moving through a cycle.

Inside is stainless as well. As is the rotating jet-wash applicator. The KitchenAid ProWash Cycle determines the ideal cycle for washing dishes based on soil level, and then makes real-time adjustments to achieve the best cleaning performance.

The third rack is a huge difference maker. This allows for kitchen knives, spatulas and similarly elongated items to have a spot where they are not awkwardly leaning from a silverware holder or taking up excessive space laying down in one of the racks below.

Generally, this machine is able to knockout our family’s dish usage in a single load. The standard cycle does have a long run time, but that is part of this unit’s energy efficient charm. If I start the wash cycle before bed or when leaving for work it’s not an issue. And let me tell you, this KitchenAid runs quiet as a church mouse.

I did notice some complaints about dishes not being dry after completing a wash cycle. Like with all modern appliances, they are much more particular about how they are used, what cycle is appropriate and in this case, what detergent is preferable. If one doesn’t follow the unit’s instructions, and operate the machine as indicated, your results may be less than desired.

I have had no issues with drying. I do recommend adding Cascade Power Dry. My dishes come out crystal clean, clear and 100 percent dry every time.

The KitchenAid (KDPE234GPS) earned an average of 4.7 stars out of 5 for satisfaction, and was recommended by 95 percent of reviewers through the Lowe’s website. It retails for $999 and I found it during Lowe’s Christmas sale for $649. It comes with a 1-year limited warranty. For an additional $86.97, I opted in to Lowe’s 3-year Major Appliance Extended Protection Plan.

I couldn’t be happier with my KitchenAid dishwasher – love the look, design, functionality and performance.

Thanks Mom & Dad!

Posted in Events, Family, Food, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Il Grande Mafioso – A Super Sunday Sandwich

The Il Grande Mafioso, ready for prime time.

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, it’s never too early to discuss tantalizing treats to serve during the Big Daddy game of the year. There’s never a guarantee that the on-field match-up, or the commercials, will live up to the hype. But Grade A snacks can carry the day every time.

Prior to this year’s LSU/Alabama game, my sons and I went on a quest to assemble the ultimate hot Italian submarine sandwich. We were not playing around here. This bad boy was stacked high with fine Italian cold cuts, impressive enough on first glance to make the mouths water of any MeatHeads in your Super Bowl crowd.

Since the original “Godfather” movie was showing later that Saturday evening after LSU dispatched the Crimson Tide 46-41, in the spirit of fine Italian/American cuisine, we dubbed our creation the “Il Grande Mafioso.”

Never ask this sandwich about its business… It will rub out your hunger in no time flat.

Generally speaking, all the necessary ingredients for this monster creation can be found at your local supermarket, such as Kroger, Giant, Safeway, or the like. Walmart should stock most of these items, but a couple are questionable. Recently, I was unable to find capocollo at Kroger. I see it all the time when I’m not looking for it.

I will add that it might seem this sandwich is a tad on the expensive side as one is dropping the fixings into his or her shopping cart. I wouldn’t disagree with this notion, but once the prescribed items are acquired, there is sufficient quantity to make at least two full footlongs. That drops the ticket price to somewhere around $15-$20 per sub. That’s not too shabby if we are talking about feeding 10 or more people.

For any submarine sandwich fans, whether that be a muffuletta, Po’ boy, wedge, blimpie, hoagie, hero, grinder – call it what you will, the “Il Grande Mafioso” is poised to win the praise of your guests, and make the taste buds smile for all who cross its path.

INGREDIENTS:

2 – 12″ Soft Italian Bread Loaves

3 tblsp – Salted Butter

6 oz – Sopressata (A spicier, more coarsely ground cured meat)

5 oz – Genoa Salami (A greasy pork sausage, more tart, due to use of white or red wine)

5 oz – Pepperoni (The larger deli sliced variety)

4 oz – Salame Calabrese (A dry pork salame, sweet and hot, with Italian fennel seed)

4 oz – Capocollo (Pork cold cut from dry-cured muscle running from neck to shoulder)

5 oz – Mortadella (Finely ground heat-cured pork incorporating small cubes of pork fat)

4 oz – Prosciutto (Thinly sliced dry cured ham – think thin bacon)

8 oz – Black Forest Ham (Sliced)

6 oz – Provolone Cheese (Deli sliced thick)

8 oz – Shredded Iceberg Lettuce (1-bag)

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper (Freshly ground)

1 Teaspoon – Dried Oregano

2 Tablespoons – Red Wine Vinegar

2 Tablespoons – Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

16 oz  cup – Pepperoncini (sliced)

Optional: 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced; tomatoes (fresh-thinly sliced)

*** Remember there is generally sufficient amounts here to make two sandwiches at least. Many of these deli items are sold pre-packaged, and this is the smallest denomination available for purchase. In my book, it’s always better to have too much than not enough of each item, especially when cooking for a crowd. Over-estimate for success is my motto.

To start, find a nice loaf of Italian bread. Kroger has a lovely one for $2. No fuss. Make sure it is fresh. The bread should be soft to the touch, yet firm. But definitely don’t use a hard loaf.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Locate a baking sheet or pizza pan. Slice the bread in half on the baking sheet, separating the two halves. Take butter and spread across the top half and set aside, butter side up.

Now layer the cold cuts. The flat circular meats are applied first, creating a flavor base. Take half of the Sopressata, and space it out accordingly so the entire surface area of the bottom half of the Italian loaf is covererd. It will be a thin single layer, perhaps slightly overlapping. Then repeat this process with the Genoa salami, pepperoni, salame calabrese and capocollo.

Out of the oven hot, the folded ham, prosciutto and provolone with a sprinkle of salt & pepper.

With the mortadella and black forest ham, layer it in folds. Delicately place Prosciutto over the ham, and cover with four slices of provolone cheese.

Place both sandwich halves into the oven on the baking sheet, with the provolone and butter sides facing up. Warm in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Check it at 10 minutes, then at 15. Leave it in for another five if you prefer a little crunch to the bread. The idea is to activate the fatty tissues and juices in the critter so that it releases another layer of flavor that seeps into the fresh bread.

While the oven is doing its thing, find a mixing cup, and add the red wine vinegar and olive oil. Stir until combined. Measure out the oregano and stir into the vinegar/olive oil combo, and set aside.

The pepperoncini might come whole, and will need to be sliced. If so, get a cutting board and place it near the sink. These are juicy suckers, and will squirt when pressure is applied. Chop off the tops and discard. Slice longways and rinse the peppers under cool water to remove seeds. Once cleaned, slice and dice the better part of the entire bottle if two sandwiches are being assembled. These are not so much spicy as they serve to enable a contrast in flavors to be brought out. Pepperoncini really highlights the meat combo.

Lettuce with the vinegar, olive oil and oregano combo applied.

Once the sandwich is removed from the oven and cooled slightly, grab the shredded lettuce from the fridge. It’s good to keep this cool and crisp. Form a dense layer across the top of the provolone cheese. Find the measuring cup with your red wine vinegar/olive oil/oregano combo, and pour half across the top of the lettuce, zig-zagging back and forth from one end to the other.

If tomatoes are desired, add a thin layer along the crest of the lettuce. Otherwise we have reached the climax. Add half the Pepperoncini, and administer a healthy sprinkle of salt & pepper across the finished assemblage.

Finally, place the top loaf with its melted butter atop this mountain of goodness and serve. It can be divided into five rather healthy wedges. Served with chips or a small side, it will fill up most folks. If multiple entrees are in play as part of a wider buffet, cut the sandwich into five subsections and slice each of those into half.

A small square of the Il Grande Mafioso is a taste explosion waiting for the next lucky passerby. Get it while it’s hot.

Bon appétit!

Posted in Events, Family, Food, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Woodstock Turns 50

August 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the granddaddy of all music festivals. It wasn’t the biggest festival ever, and certainly not a profitable endeavor, at least not initially. What set Woodstock apart was its agrarian nature. Set amongst the rolling terrain of the Catskill Mountains, organizers cobbled together this ginormous festival by the proverbial seat of their pants, lacking adequate planning or logistical support, and yet with a heaping dose of peace and love, a magical moment in time was created.

It was not supposed to be possible. The powers that be in 1969 remained in a 1950s mindset. The hippie movement that coalesced into a counterculture revolution was a rebuke of the establishment’s restrictive mindset, and manifested its identity into protest over the Vietnam War.

This same brand of regressive thinking was exemplified by elected or appointed leaders at all levels across America’s cities, townships and states. The idea of throwing together an event the size and scope of Woodstock, with as little planning as took place was inconceivable by the older generation. Especially when it was being done by a bunch of hippies. But the freaks pulled it together and Woodstock’s success went worldwide.

The assembled mass of Woodstock.

Four guys, Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman, had a plan to open a recording studio in Woodstock, and thought it would be a cool idea to host a music fest in the farmlands of southeast New York, as a way to promote their endeavor.

Billed as an “Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” Woodstock took place August 15-18, 1969, on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in the town of Bethel, NY, 80 miles northwest of New York City. It became a counterculture pilgrimage made by more than 400,000 attendees. By its conclusion Woodstock was a historic milestone.

JOE COCKER – Let’s Go Get Stoned (Live @ Woodstock)

The festival set out as a money making venture. Tickets for the three-day event cost $18 in advance and $24 at the gate (the equivalent of $130 and $170 today). Around 186,000 advance tickets were sold, and organizers anticipated as many as 200,000 attendees. It was the other 200,000 that chose to show up that forced organizers to declare Woodstock a free event.

The backup of cars, and pedestrians heading to Woodstock.

Traffic completely overwhelmed the rural roadways. Instead of frustration, people just abandoned their vehicles, not on the side of the road, but in the road. Then walked the rest of the way. They kept coming. By the thousands to tiny Bethel. With tickets and without. The fences came down. Torrential rain fell. There was mud, music, love and a shared belief in companionship by the assembled masses.

With the roads log-jammed, once initial festivalgoers arrived they were stuck until Monday. The miles of abandoned vehicles served as a buffer to cut off the outside world. A state of emergency was declared by Sullivan County. Musicians, food, water, first aid supplies and those requiring serious medical attention had to be transported by helicopter into or out of the venue.

THE WHO – My Generation (Live @ Woodstock | 08.17.69 | 5AM-6:05AM)

Traveling from every corner of America and beyond, they no longer were strangers once reaching Woodstock. This quagmire of humanity took it upon themselves to share whatever they brought (food, drink, shelter, blankets, drugs) with their adopted brothers and sisters. It all became possible, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” as Joe Cocker would famously sing on Sunday.

There was a genuine camaraderie, a solidarity, among members of “Woodstock Nation.” They were vested in taking care of each other. To that end the Hog Farm hippie commune provided free food to thousands. It was this willingness to accept without judgment that cast the “Be-In”/”Love-in” culture apart from society at large. They weren’t trying to game the system. They simply didn’t want to participate in what was considered antiquated thinking and an unnecessary evil of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

As Woodstock roared to life, the venue had become a city unto itself. No way in, no way out, just 400,000 people living in the moment. Inside the venue not one sign of corporate sponsorship or a commercial entity existed. It was total lo-fi. Admittedly, organizers didn’t have a handle on traffic, food, security, bathrooms, sanitation, first aid or transportation, but who does when 400,000 people show up to party for three-plus days. Still, Woodstock was legit. It was the ultimate scene to make.

Organizers recognized the innate necessity to assemble a roster of headlining acts that had credence in the hippie movement. To make that happen it required paying the bigger acts double their going rates – and they wanted it up front before hitting the stage.

Several top artists turned down invitations, like The Byrds, The Doors, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. As the scene unfolded rumors circulated that bands were no longer getting paid. Some artists threatened to back out, which necessitated organizers convince a local bank to open after hours and provide them an emergency loan.

Jimi Hendrix was the top headliner, playing with his new band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, or a Band of Gypsies. The British invasion was represented by The Who. The funk scene was fronted by Sly and the Family Stone. The hippie/anti-government movement was saturated with the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band.

Ritchie Havens on stage at Woodstock.

Ritchie Havens kicked off the festival. He and his band drove up from NYC early, and since the scheduled opener, Sweetwater, was stuck in traffic, Havens played for some three hours to cover time. His intense performance of Freedom was spellbinding. This was one of a handful of sets by certain performers that defined their careers going forward. Another was at 2PM Saturday, when Carlos Santana, 22, a relatively unknown guitar virtuoso, who happened to be whacked out of his mind on mescaline, turned in an improvisational set that launched his superstar career.

CARLOS SANTANA – Soul Sacrifice (Live @ Woodstock | 08.16.69 | 2-2:45PM)

The Saturday evening sets were pure hippie moonshine featuring Canned Heat (7:30-8:30PM); Mountain (9-10PM); Grateful Dead (10:30-12:05AM); Creedence Clearwater Revival (12:30-1:20AM); Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band (2-3AM); Sly and the Family Stone (3:30-4:20AM); The Who (5-6:05AM); and Jefferson Airplane (8-9:40AM).

Can you imagine Sly and the Family Stone ripping into I Want to Take you Higher, at 4AM. That was some crazy shit right there.

The following afternoon, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band played a career defining set, filled with Cocker’s manic gyrations. He was followed by the likes of Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, and CSN&Y. Again they played all night.

It was 9AM Monday morning when Jimi Hendrix took the stage for his two-plus hour closing set at Woodstock. By then the vast majority of the crowd had begun their journeys home – tired, hungry and damp. Some 30,000 people remained across the litter-strewn dairy farm to observe what many critics have deemed the singular greatest musical moment of the 1960s – if not the greatest rock concert in history.

Jimi Hendrix on stage Monday morning at Woodstock.

Hendrix’s interpretation of The Star-Spangled Banner, with its wailing feedback and irreverent distortion, remains groundbreaking, and a creative symbol artists continue to derive inspiration from today.

A sizable taste of this mega festival was captured in the 1970 Oscar-winning documentary by Michael Wadleigh. That same year Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More, was released. The three LP set went to No. 1 on Billboard’s top records chart. In 1971, the double album Woodstock Two came out and went gold.

JIMI HENDRIX – The Star-Spangled Banner (Live @ Woodstock | 08.18.67 | 9-11:10AM)

Since then several expanded musical releases have followed, including Woodstock – Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive, a 38-CD, 36-hour, 432-song box set of nearly every note played at the original festival. Additionally, full Woodstock sets by individual acts like Hendrix, Joplin, Grateful Dead and CCR were made available. As have expanded documentaries examining Woodstock’s lasting impact after time allowed for additional perspective.

Immense optimism exuded coming out of Woodstock. The popular thought was why not do it again. This was tried at Altamont. The Rolling Stones did a polite pass when pitched the Woodstock gig. This time the Glimmer Twins were the showcase, along with numerous acts from Woodstock’s roster. The Stones brought in the Hells Angels to run security. For beer money of course. What could go wrong?

Everything.

The Altamont Speedway Free Festival was to be the crowning jewel of the 1960s. Held in Livermore, CA, situated on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, Altamont took place on Saturday, December 6, 1969. This was the chance for the West Coast to shine, as California was home to the counterculture movement.

Some 300,000 journeyed to witness the death of hippiedom. One man was stabbed to death, and three others died accidentally; two caused by a hit-and-run car accident, and one by LSD-induced drowning in an irrigation canal.

ROLLING STONES – Sympathy for the Devil (Live @ Altamont 12.06.69)

Considerable violence took place across the venue. Much of it instigated by the Hells Angels. By most accounts there was a foul spirit in the air from the outset of Altamont.

According to Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, “The vibes were bad. Something was very peculiar, not particularly bad, just real peculiar. It was that kind of hazy, abrasive and unsure day. I had expected the loving vibes of Woodstock but that isn’t coming at me. This was a whole different thing.”

There was no shortage of affordable hallucinogenics at Woodstock – but watch the brown acid.

Still, as poorly as Altamont came off, Woodstock endured. It was the clarifying moment of the 1960s, captured in a bottle. Yet its afterglow disintegrated on impact in the 1970s. Hippiedom ran counter to America’s capitalistic society, and its consumer-based operating system.

The smell of money was in the air. Greed. The rat race to the top of the corporate ladder was off and running. Gone were the days when one could get by with just a little help from your friends. The rock-n-roll kept on chooglin’ – by all means love the one you’re with, but several notable musicians who played Woodstock failed to survive the 1970s. As for attendees, if one wanted to afford that house, a car, 2.5 kids and the status quo Madison Avenue was marketing, it took money and a real job.

Meanwhile, society steadily became more litigious, and violence permeated America’s fabric. Twice organizers believed they could lasso lightening by hosting Woodstock reincarnations in modern day America.

The 25th anniversary show, dubbed Woodstock ’94, took place August 12-14, 1994, on Winston Farm, just west of Saugerties, NY, some 70 miles northeast of the 1969 original. Promoted as “2 More Days of Peace and Music,” two familiar scenarios unfolded with predictable outcomes. Though some 164,000 tickets were sold, 550,000 attendees showed up for the concert, overwhelming the venue and facilities. Rain was persistent throughout the weekend. Mud pits, mud fights and mud slides were the most memorable entrants of this revival.

NINE INCH NAILS – Closer (Live @ Woodstock | 08.13.94)

MTV essentially put on Woodstock ’99. Held in Rome, NY, on July 22-25, 1999. Approximately 400,000 attended. The performances were marred by environmental conditions, violence, sexual assaults, allegations of rape, looting and wide-spread fires.

LIMP BIZKIT – Break Stuff (Live @ Woodstock | 07.24.99)

Organizers seemed intent on bringing 1969 back to life, but that is a tough ask when hard edged bands like Nine Inch Nails, Limp Bizkit, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and Rage Against the Machine are featured. Great bands all, but not your chill and hug type of music.

Some of the original Woodstock organizers sought to throw a 50th anniversary festival. Potential host venues proved less than enthusiastic about taking the legal risk of holding a mass event that had more than a better’s chance of going sideways with the whole world watching.

Lightning in a bottle. It’s nearly impossible to catch twice.

Over time Woodstock did become profitable for its original planners. Through books, movies, soundtracks, merchandising and spinoff concerts. Woodstock became a way of life, a trademark, that homogenized the experience, which I can’t imagine was the intention of the organizers, but times change.

The 1960s were idyllic in concept. Though only a decade, over those 10 years a cultural impact was unleashed that continues to reach across generations. The audacious freedom to express one’s self, owning your sexuality, empowering young people in the political process, and artistic individuality – these fundamentals were released from captivity as a result of the 1960s counterculture movement.

No longer could society turn a blind eye to its children, expecting young people to simply sit in the corner quietly. It was okay to let your freak flag fly. Woodstock was a celebration of these personal freedoms realized, and became a tangible calling card through time for what is possible.

JANIS JOPLIN – Try (Live @ Woodstock | 08.17.69 | 2-3AM)

In 2017, the Woodstock site became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Posted in Music, News, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Friday Off to Attend Bourbon & Beyond

It was a normal Friday morning on September 20 at my office. I was riding out an uneventful work day, followed by the prospect of attending my boys’ high school football game that evening. Around 10AM my phone rang with an offer to take my day in a totally different direction.

My buddy Michael had a set of weekend passes for Bourbon & Beyond, the classic rock music festival hosted in Louisville, September 20-22. His intended companion for the Friday shows was not feeling well, so he offered me the slot. This was a rather generous offer, as the Friday single-day ticket cost $99.50 (plus fees). Weekend passes to Bourbon & Beyond would set you back $199.50 (plus fees). In addition to admission, this offer came with transportation to and from the venue, and a free night’s lodging at the Courtyard hotel, walking distance to the venue.

Come on now, you had me at hello!

After clearing this change in plans with my employer and family, wheels quickly started turning to switch gears from work mode into festival pre-gaming. Now one could get hung up on wanting to get on-site as quickly as possible to not miss any of the music action, but neither of us were interested in rushing. Michael and I do not get to hang like this often these days.

I left work at lunchtime to change clothes and gear up. After Mike picked me up around 2:30, it took some time to navigate the crowded exit coming into Louisville and access the hotel area with our parking pass. By the time we parked, checked in and actually keyed the hotel room it was after 3:30PM. Now we could properly mix cocktails and begin the imbibing process in earnest.

No doubt we missed some fireworks. On the Barrel Stage: The Record Company @ 12:40; Lukas Nelson & Promise Of Real @ 2:10; and Live @ 4:10. On the Oak Stage: Preservation Hall Jazz Band @ 12; Blackberry Smoke @ 1:25; and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts @ 2:55.

Our festival beverage of choice. Longbranch is a recent edition to the Wild Turkey family. The product of a collaboration between Matthew McConaughey and Master Distiller Eddie Russell.

We made a conscious decision to party in the hotel room for a bit, listen to some music and chat it up instead of entering the venue, where our drinks would not be cheap. We were totally content to take our time and comfortably wander inside for the 5PM set.

My issues with Bourbon & Beyond are several. Primarily this is a geezer fest. The majority of these acts lost their fastballs in the 1970s or 1980s. Secondly, the location is dreadful. Bourbon & Beyond, along with the heavy metal festival, Louder Than Life, were previously located in Champions Park near downtown Louisville, but were partially or entirely cancelled last year due to flooding.

This resulted in a deal being cut with the Kentucky Expo Center. While this area is not flood prone, it is a sea of asphalt and concrete, with no redeemable scenery that lends itself to spending multiple days at a music festival. To ease this concern the fairgrounds crafted a fake landscape referred to as the Highlands Festival Grounds. This area was augmented to offer some mounds of land to walk over, faux landscaping and a couple trees to try and make attendees forget they were in a giant parking lot.

To make matters worse they paired the two main stages side-by-side. This way when one stage was live the other went dark. This meant attendees spent the entire day moving from one side to the other. Definitely not terribly imaginative if one is spending three frigging days on basically 50 yards of land.

Cascading confetti and electric rainbows on display as The Flaming Lips closed their set.

Friday was by far the best day for me to attend, as the Foo Fighters, who remain a relevant act, were headlining that night. Michael and I made it inside around 5:30PM, in time to see the majority of the psychedelic shenanigans from The Flaming Lips.

The Lips are one of those unique bands that matters not if you know their music, by the time Wayne Coyne and these Oklahoma City boys are finished, you’ll be singing along and they will have left a lasting impression on you with their stagecraft and bombast.

The Flaming Lips brought all those elements to their Friday set, as giant inflatable robots roamed, Coyne crisscrossed the crowd inside a clear inflatable ball and seas of confetti descended upon the crowd as the band brought home its anthemic closer, Do You Realize.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats hit the stage next. I was excited to check these guys out. They are a working man’s rhythm & blues combo out of Denver. They had a sort of tent revival feel to them. Not religious per se, but it did feel as if the sin was being washed away by their rock-n-roll. Rateliff rarely stood still. With his barrel-chested physique and facial hair, he made for a fascinating front man as he busted some James Brown footwork. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Rateliff for the last two numbers, including their huge hit, S.O.B.

NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS – I NEED NEVER GET OLD

Now much anticipation followed for John Fogerty’s set. It was 50 years and about a month to the day Fogerty and his band Creedence Clearwater Revival played at Woodstock in 1969. He was touring in celebration of his 50-year trip. I wish I had something positive to relay about his performance. I love CCR. Fogerty is an American icon and legend in the music business, but he performed as a contrived shadow of his former self.

He was given the full headliner treatment – a killer band, including drummer Kenny Aronoff, three massive video screens and pre-produced video vignettes to go with the individual songs. Unfortunately nothing could distract away from this subpar performance.

JOHN FOGERTY – FORTUNATE SON + BAD MOON RISING

Fogerty, 74, apparently had some unfortunate plastic surgery. His face was stretched tighter than a snare drum. His look alone cut into Fogerty’s authenticity – CCR’s primary calling card. Fogerty’s guitar served more as a prop than an instrument. There were 12 or so performers on stage. CCR was always a minimalist outfit. That number of excessive artists can only mean something is needing to get obscured. When he addressed the crowd it came off as pre-programmed. I was genuinely worried he might have a senior moment.

Again, I luv me some CCR. This was more like watching a CCR cover band. I’m mystified why organizers gave Fogerty such a valuable time slot.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters.

This left the Foo Fighters. Thank goodness for something modern. As a big Nirvana fan, I have mad appreciation for Dave Grohl, and all the work he has done with a variety of bands. Yet the Foo Fighters remain a bit of an odd duck. There is some core element that leaves me cold. Hard to put a finger on it. Still, I was psyched to check them out live.

The energy was there. They are plenty loud when they choose to be, and excellent musicians. But midway through all their songs blended together into a remarkably similar melody and tone. Their songs are primarily rock ballads, that start off slow and build to a crescendo of screaming angst. Even their opening was weird. They came running on stage, ripping guitars and pounding drums, screaming, “are you motherfuckers ready for some rock and roll!!!” Then limped into this soft instrumental opening of The Pretender. It instantly killed all the crowd energy, and left people looking at each other bewildered by the confusing mixed message that just took place.

FOO FIGHTERS – INTRO + THE PRETENDER

That being said the set was 20 songs strong. Drummer Taylor Hawkins sang an interesting cover of Queen’s Under Pressure. Must say it’s always great to see former Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear in action. The Foo Fighters closed strong with This Is A Call and Everlong.

FOO FIGHTERS – THIS IS A CALL

Overall, while less than impressive, Bourbon & Beyond delivered on offering a beautiful summer day to hang with friends and enjoy some live music outdoors. Personally, I would recommend folks spend their money on either Forecastle or Railbird in Lexington next year. Try checking out some more immediate bands that are relevant, impassioned and actually have their original members together on stage. Just a thought.

Posted in Events, Food, Liquor, Music, Reviews, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Railbird Music Festival is Feast for the Senses

Jack White of The Raconteurs performing Saturday night at Railbird.

The inaugural Railbird music festival, held August 10-11 in Lexington, left the gate as a long shot, but for all who attended, it paid off like hitting an exacta on Derby Day. Held across the picturesque grounds at the Keeneland horse racing track, the event left a lasting impression with its friendly staff, upscale amenities and broad spectrum of musical talent.

To be honest, my choice to attend Railbird was predominantly influenced by the inclusion of The Raconteurs headlining Saturday night. Jack White, of White Stripes fame, is a guitar god, and alt-rock pioneer. He is one of a select few musicians from the current generation who has crafted a lasting career across numerous incarnations, and left an indelible mark upon popular music.

THE WHITE STRIPES – SEVEN NATION ARMY

When the White Stripes stopped playing in 2007, White, who hails from Detroit, MI, joined forces with the existing members of The Greenhornes, to form The Raconteurs. This became White’s rock-n-roll band. They cut two commercially successful discs together, Broken Boy Soldiers and Consolers of the Lonely. After this, White, along with The Greenhornes’ bassist Jack Lawrence, left to hook up with Alison Mosshart from the Kills, and Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age – to form The Dead Weather.

Maia and the Urban Llama on grounds @ Railbird.

This engagement also proved commercially successful, even with Jack White choosing to serve as the drummer in this supergroup. White has since embarked on a multi-disc solo career, and resides in Nashville, TN, where he formed Third Man Records, an independent record label, whose headquarters serves as a record store and performance space.

The Raconteurs got back together in 2018, releasing two singles. These both ended up on the band’s June 2019 disc, Help Me Stranger. A world tour was scheduled to accompany their Billboard No. 1 album, including a stop on a gorgeous Saturday night in Lexington at the Railbird Festival.

General admission tickets for the weekend were $140 each. Yes that would be a tad extravagant to see only The Raconteurs – but they were by no means playing alone. Other headliners included Gary Clark Jr., Tyler Childers, Hozier, Brandi Carlile, Old Crow Medicine Show, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, to name a few.

This diverse assemblage of musical acts by organizers was ambitious for public consumption. It could have fallen apart with their attempts to meld country acts with alternative, blues, funk, gospel and pop – but the right mix of talent enabled folks to dive in head first into unknown genres and uncover common ground amongst unfamiliar artists that led to a marvelous weekend of discovery.

Our daughter Isabella joined us @ Railbird on Sunday for the festivities.

It was super helpful that Railbird offered a layaway option for tickets. Two general admission passes, with all applicable fees and handling charges came to $352. I paid an initial $68.10 to hold the tickets, and then four payments of $70.98 over the next three months.

Another selling point for this fest was it only took place on the weekend. This meant I didn’t have to burn leave to attend Friday shows, in turn Railbird didn’t dilute its talent by attempting three days of music. This made attending cheaper, and offered less wear and tear on my body.

Parking was super easy, at least entering Keeneland. Re-entry to the venue was allowed on tickets, so attendees could dip out to their cars, where many had coolers and chairs. Folks parked near the stages could tailgate and still hear performances, if not see the bands on stage. The venue was easy to navigate, with a plethora of food and drink options, especially high end bourbon and craft cocktails.

For me Saturday remained all about The Raconteurs, but no doubt Low Cut Connie earned some fans with their full-on stage acrobatics. The voice alone from Mavis Staples, 80, was enough to stop many in their tracks. She belted out funk driven rock and blues to go with her gospel roots. Staples did wonderful takes on Slippery People from the Talking Heads, and For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield.

Entering the 7:30PM sets it became time to start strategically thinking about getting into position for The Raconteurs. Considering the number of folks who clearly came to see Brandi Carlile I felt obliged to check her out, and I must say she won me over. Her determination, voice and stagecraft were impressive. She ripped a wonderful take on Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You, popularized by Led Zeppelin. A few songs later she showed off her platinum pipes with a cover of A Case of You by Joni Mitchell.

Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs.

I wanted to see Old Crow Medicine Show, but they were playing on the Elkhorn Stage at the far end of the venue. We chose instead to stake out a prime spot left of the Limestone Stage ahead of The Raconteurs set.

The boys from Nashville did not disappoint. Jack White exploded onto the stage, pumping his arms as he fed off the raw energy emanating from the growing crowd. It was quickly clear some of the more gentile in the audience who stuck around to see what all the fuss was about were not down with the rambunctious sounds, and they could be seen streaming for the exits after the opening track. For the rest of us, it was a decadent treat to witness a master in his element.

THE RACONTEURS – YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME

I particularly enjoyed White on piano for You Don’t Understand Me, and the ragged glory of Carolina Drama, a murder ballad from the band’s sophomore release. Only Child, off the new disc, was also a concert standout.

THE RACONTEURS – STEADY AS SHE GOES

Gary Clark Jr. performing Sunday @ Railbird.

Sunday was more chill. Railbird allowed kids 10 and under to attend for free, so Maia and I brought our 7-year old, Isabella, with us to rampage across the hillsides.

Major props to the Fruit Bats. These Chicago boys were at their alt-folk best, throwing trippy vibes to a packed lawn at the Burl Stage. My priority show for the day was Gary Clark Jr. This Austin, TX, blues-guitarist menaced the stage with his trademark scowl, blistering out notes from his six-string sidearm. He was channeling a serious Curtis Mayfield vibe, in his wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. The man was cool before the term was invented.

GARY CLARK JR. – COME TOGETHER

Honorable mentions go to St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Lucinda Williams and the festival closing act, Hozier. This Irish vocalist gave expansive renditions of his pop ballads, blending layers of sound and voice perfect for display at a large outdoor venue.

Hands down my surprise performance of the festival and arguably favorite set belonged to Kentucky’s own Tyler Childers. Each song seemed to have a building drama to it, with signature catch lines the crowd knew well. These were narrative-driven tales, mixing bluegrass, with country, folk and Americana rock.

TYLER CHILDERS – WHITEHOUSE ROAD

Isabella rocking out @ Railbird.

Childers emotional delivery and intense stare let on these were autobiographical tales of excess and tragedy. His songs were a fitting soundtrack to inspired drinking and painted a vintage romance about small town country life. He had me with his set’s strong opening of House Fire, Whitehouse Road, Redneck Romeo, and Country Squire. This Lawrence County native was spitting fire from the jump as the crowd gave Childers an enthusiastic homecoming embrace.

About midway through Childers played his current hit, All Your’n. For those who watch SEC football, which are legion in this part of the country, Childers’ song is the soundtrack to a current advertisement for SEC Football’s “We Love It Here” campaign. Even on the vast expanse of a main stage lawn, Tyler Childers cooked up what felt like a intimate house party.

TYLER CHILDERS – ALL YOUR’N

Railbird returns August 22 & 23, 2020. We will see if Railbird organizers have another carefully curated festival roster of artists to offer, but their first effort was cash money. If they can come close for a sophomore edition I’ll wager on attending again.

Posted in Events, Exercise, Family, Food, Liquor, Music, News, Reviews, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment