Month: May, 2008

Wild horses & wine

Sunday, May 25th, 2008 | All Things, Drinks, Travel

After we spent the latter half of last night chilly and wet, A decided that we needed to make a quick stop at the Ellensburg Fred Meyer for some emergency ponchos. And true to some variant of Murphy’s Law, his preparatory purchase seemed to insure that we would have no need for rain gear; the skies remained clear the entire day.

We spent the early part of the afternoon along the roads of Central Washington: a pretty — and pretty fast (ouch) — drive which eventually brought us to the Wild Horses Monument on Interstate-90.

David Govedare’s sculpture of 16 wild horses was installed on this bluff near the town of Vantage for Washington State’s Centennial Celebration in 1989. Native American Govedare is one of the Northwest’s most recognized artist for his public works, including the lifesize Bloomsday runners of “The Joy of Running Together” (1986) in downtown Spokane’s Riverfront Park. (Not everyone’s a fan.)

This 200-foot line of charging horses (no two alike) can be glimpsed briefly from the interstate — if you’re not the one behind the wheel — or more leisurely from the Wanapum Vista Overlook, where we made this stop. Bonus: an expansive view of the Columbia River Valley, Wanapum Lake and the Vantage Bridge.

Govedare’s installation, created from welded 1″ thick tempered steel plates, is titled “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies“; the scene re-creates the legend of the Great Spirit turning loose a herd of the first wild horses onto earth. There is a rather treacherous-looking trail leading up the horses, but my festival flip-flops probably wouldn’t have gotten me very far up the bluff.

Later, at the Cave B Winery adjacent to the Gorge. Inventor/neurosurgeon cum real estate developer Vince Bryan purchased this 550 acre plot of land on which he carved out 100 acres of vineyard; since then, over two dozen wineries have moved into the area. He and his wife built the neighboring Gorge Amphitheatre in 1983 (now owned by Live Nation); in the 1990s, the Bryans added the inn and resort. A golf course is in the works.

We joined up with our Chimposium-visiting friends and together signed up for a tasting of six wines: the 2006 Cave B Sauvignon Blanc; the 2007 SageCliffe 100 Chardonnay (unoaked); the 2007 Cave B Saignée Rosé; the 2006 Cave B Sangiovese; the 2004 SageCliffe Merlot; and the 2005 Cave B Syrah.

A and NO picked up a couple bottles of the Merlot for sipping out on the veranda from which we could take in the awe-inspiring view of the vines and the Columbia River Gorge, while plinking traces of the White Rabbits piano heavy set drifted over from the festival next door.

Check out the flickr sets from our afternoon.

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Ellensburg, Washington

Sunday, May 25th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Travel

Lacking the youthful exuberance and temperament for festival camping, our group had booked two nights in Ellensburg, Washington, a 40-minute scenic drive from the Gorge Amphitheater. Our Holiday Inn Express was full of like-minded, similarly delicate (read: old) Sasquatch attendees this Memorial Day weekend.

After Michael Stipe kept us up late last night — has a hot shower ever felt more heavenly than after a long day spent outdoors? — we settled in for a leisurely morning exploring our surroundings. To answer NO’s query: this town of 15,000, incorporated in 1883, was so named in 1889 by its first postmaster John A. Shoudy, after his wife Mary Ellen.

Ellensburg’s raison d’etre is Central Washington University. MT observed that the streets were very similar to those of Ithaca… down to the signature area gorges. Our plan this morning was to visit the Yellow Church Café on South Pearl Street – a converted 1923 German Lutheran church popular among the locals for its [secular] weekend brunch. We arrived, however, to find a small crowd already gathered in the foyer: though classes were out for the semester, the otherwise sleepy college town was descended upon by Sasquatch visitors, and our party of five was advised of a half hour wait for a table. Just in case we were nostalgic for home.

Being somewhat less enthusastic about this early afternoon’s musical lineup, we were in no urgent rush to head out to George. And the delay gave us some time to walk the pretty streets of historic downtown.

This densely decorated two-story red wood frame house, known as Dick and Jane’s Spot, is the project of local artists Dick Elliott and Jane Orleman, who have dedicated their home and yard to showcasing their own and the work of dozens of other artists.

Back at the cafe, we waited a bit more until at long last our party was called up and seated upstairs in the former choir loft, from which we had a birdseye view of the main dining room and open kitchen.

CF and MT were running late for their scheduled visit to the Chimposium, so we started off by requesting a cinnamon roll for the table – warm, sweet and enormous… plenty satisfying, even split five ways. No doubt each wedge still packed the caloric punch of a full breakfast. (Fortunate, as our friends hardly had time to taste their meals before dashing off to campus to communicate with the chimpanzees.)

From among the mouth-watering list of “Praiseworthy Breakfasts,” I ordered the “Huevos Rancheros” — minus the cheddar — seen here. (“St. Benedict‘s Eggs” and “Pagan Pancakes” were also options.)

Worth the wait, and it did get me to church on Sunday after all.

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Sasquatch Festival: Day 1

Saturday, May 24th, 2008 | All Things, Events, Music, Travel

After parking the Cruiser in an open grassy field with a view of the crowded campgrounds in the distance, I strolled up to the entry gate with my new Escalada backpack in tow, stuffed with an ice-filled water bottle, Luna bars, sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella, sweatshirt, towel, binoculars… all of which I would need over the course of our near-10 hour marathon of music. (Thanks to B who wisely advised that a Kate Spade tote would not do in this situation.)

Filing in among the 22,000 sell-out crowd. A somewhat diverse group, agewise — festival headliners were R.E.M., The Cure, and The Flaming Lips, after all — but ethnically… well, not so very. College students, neo-hippies (the ones who weren’t at the Northwest Folklife Festival taking place the same weekend at Seattle Center), hipsters and yuppies seemed to comprise the major cliques, with a few music industry people thrown into the mix.

The weather reports predicted rain on and off this weekend, but by 2PM, the sun was shining brightly, baking the Gorge in a summer-like heat.

Josh Bis (science vs. romance) offers a terrific write-up of the festival’s first day on the KEXP blog along with plenty of photos taken from a much better vantage point than mine. As it turned out, he and I had almost identical concert schedules — impressive considering the 50+ acts on three stages over the two (of three) days I attended. In roughly decreasing order of profile, performers played back-to-back on the Sasquatch! Main Stage, set directly in front of a stunning canyon/river backdrop, the Wookie! [sic] Stage in the meadow and the Yeti! Stage in the plaza, adjacent to the picnic tables.

This would be our primary view for the next two days:

We arrived at the main stage just in time for one of CF’s festival highlights: Beirut (Zach Condon) playing an Eastern European inflected set of “spooky gypsy music.”

Up-and-coming Athens, Georgia trio The Whigs, who rocked it out at SXSW in March, were on tour promoting their second album “Mission Control (released on Dave Matthews’ label.) CF and I caught the last couple of songs of their energetic set as we made our rounds through the Gorge grounds, stopping for a pair of frozen lemonade slushies, which were absolute perfection on this bright, warm afternoon.

As we spread out on the grassy knoll during Ozomatli — one of the jammier bands in the lineup — we heard what we thought were speakers blaring Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” from the third Yeti! stage. NO excitedly informed us that the rich baritone actually… improbably… belonged to Vince Mira — a scrawny Latino teenager from Seattle, who drew an awestruck crowd and became the talk of the festival that day. (Seriously: check out Mira’s appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show; this kid will blow your mind.)

We headed over to check it out and caught Canadian songstress Kathleen Edwards — hailed as “one of the most distinctive singer-songwriters to emerge in years” — playing a prettily earnest alt-country set, accompanying herself on violin.

Rainn Wilson (The Office‘s Dwight Kurt Schrute), who was at the Festival promoting his upcoming film, The Rocker, had the unenviable task of announcing that The National would not be appearing due to a broken-down tour bus. Disappointed murmurs all around. In their stead we had the capable Fleet Foxes, making their second appearance of the day after opening the main stage at noon.

Then more Canadian action: The New Pornographers, who played a set culled heavily from “Challengers” and “Twin Cinema.” To our delight, Neko Case was up on stage; likewise Dan Bejar, whose other band Destroyer had just finished playing a Wookie! Stage set. The Pornos’ cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” was one of the best set-closers of the day.

By the time M.I.A. came onto Sasquatch! stage, anticipation was high; Maya had to drop out of last year’s line-up due to visa issues, but overall, I was somewhat disappointed by this (very loud) set. All of which made the decision to skip out for a fried dough break all the easier.

Mmm… elephant ears — so devoid of nutritional value, yet so utterly delicious. The flaky pancakes of fried dough, dusted with cinnamon or powdered sugar fresh from the deep fryer, were the culinary hit of the festival, judging by the near-constant line at the concession stands. Though had it not been for that line, we may not have gotten wind of the unannounced appearance by The National, who finally made it on site, and were given over the Yeti! stage to perform. Word of their impromptu concert spread wildly as fan Rainn Wilson good-naturedly roasted the boys from Brooklyn in his introduction, citing diva pique as their reason for failing to perform earlier.

At one point Zach Condon (Beirut) wandered over, and I went into paparazzi mode.

So much music, so little time. Riveted by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep velvet voice, we ended up abandoning our plans to check out Austin’s Okkervil River — listen to the NPR piece about them here — before finally making our way to the Wookie! Stage to stake out spaces for The Breeders close-out set. Yes, The Breeders! That set created probably our biggest dilemma of the evening: Modest Mouse was playing simultaneously, and though I had looked forward to catching former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, I could not pass up the rare opportunity to see Pixies bassist Kim Deal. (And in fact, Modest Mouse will be opening for R.E.M with The National at Jones Beach in mid-June — tickets still available, $39.00-$1,098.00.) Truly an unexpected treat to see the Deal twins, whom we know have had their issues in the past, even as the cloud cover (which had been building since late afternoon) finally gave way to intermittent drizzling rain.

Cannonball” still rocks — 15(!) years later.

We had to tear ourselves away from The Breeders show (where I’d wended my way through a gaggle of under-aged drinkers to within five feet of the stage) to catch the beginning of R.E.M.’s set. By then, the sopping chill had settled in — probably 30 degrees off the peak afternoon temps — and the hardy fans who remained huddled for warmth on the hill as Michael Stipe and Co. took to the rain-slicked stage. Calling out support to Barack Obama, and doffing his socks and shoes, a pinstripe-suited Stipe, backed ably by Peter Buck, proved the case for the band’s longevity, playing a tight, hard-driving set that successfully integrated new material with their early and late-era classics. “Drive,” “Losing My Religion,” and “The One I Love” invited audience sing-alongs as “Orange Crush” and “Man on the Moon” closed out the nearly two-hour set.

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