Sunday, September 4, 2011

The SMILEY SMILE album, The SMILE Recordings, and Riverbend Oktoberfest

In 1967, after executives from Capitol Records forced the musical group to produce and release the album "Smiley Smile" - a series of truncated recordings from the historic Brian Wilson production pieces from the scrapped "SMILE" album - guitarist Carl Wilson proclaimed "Smiley Smile" to be a "bunt instead of a grand slam". In 2011, the Beach Boys - minus the late Carl Wilson or the late Dennis Wilson - will release a large CD set (it appears to be headed to whomever still sells compact discs in sets of 3 and 5) of the SMILE recordings. Although it has been seven years since Brian Wilson produced his solo/group project of "SMILE", Mike Love and Alan Jardine and Bruce Johnston and Brian Wilson (we all assume because of the press releases by Capitol Records over the past year or so) became involved in finding, listening to the recordings, and helping digital engineer extraordinaire Mark Linett designate an "order" for the SMILE recordings.

Will it be a successful release in the fall of 2011? That remains to be seen, but of course the hype from all of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fans will probably make it a chart-topper. As long as Rolling Stone readers in the U.S. and Melody Maker and MOJO in the UK have any publicity from Capitol Records', one can imagine that it will be the first-ever 45-year-old release to be at the TOP of the album charts IF the record company produces enough physical pieces of the release that the public can purchase the hard copies in stores.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the public will be listening to new singles from the SMILE recordings. After all this time, "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations" and "Child is the Father of the Man" and "Cabin Essence" may or may not have any viability in the realm of radio and music fans. One only need to search youtube to find multiple versions of these songs before the release to get a flavor of the fantastic works of Brian Wilson's mind and that of Van Dyke Parks who did most of the lyrics for SMILE. Okay, maybe Mike Love periodically put into the lyrics something of his own --- most of us know Love's history of filing multiple lawsuits against anyone of his fellow Beach Boys through the years to say that the person that fronts the Beach Boys band these days has little left to gain except maybe a few thousand dollars from the sales of this upcoming CD because he has pretty much exhausted his opportunities to file additional suits against all those people who were involved in the Beach Boys recordings back in the 1960s at the height of the California-based musical groups popularity. Love may be looking back with love at this recording only for monetary purposes (we can assure you that he is only seeing dollar signs because of his personal disdain for the hundreds of hours of cousin Brian's best unreleased works), but he'll make statements otherwise as the release date comes upon us. Mike Love would like nothing more than to make "The SMILE Recordings" too huge for even teenagers to ignore the hype. I'm not sure that he has another 15 seconds, let alone 15 minutes of fame left in his tired diatribe-filled body, but if Mike Love wants to try it out, he will give it his mouthy best shot.

Going back to what Carl Wilson said --- the release that the Beach Boys put out in 1967 was supposed to be the greatest album of all time in rock and roll history. It wasn't so many historians will point to the success of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles as the ultimate epic release in the Rock era. Thus, Carl's assessment of "Smiley Smile" as a bunt instead of a grand slam has seemed to be the benchmark of "coming up short" sayings. One truly has to wonder where on the baseball scale "The SMILE Recordings" will fall.

I wish Carl Dean Wilson was still alive to tell us his opinion of this 2011 release. He would still carry the benchmark words comparing this release with the other two.

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The Riverbend Oktoberfest -- originally scheduled for September 30, October 1 and October 2 at the Riverfront Amphitheater in Alton has been canceled due to a lack of funding for the event. A fully organized event, the producers did not receive enough financial support to make the festival happen in 2011, thus the cancellation.

If Carl Wilson were here, one wonders if he would use a comparison: "It was a 9th inning third strike with two outs to end the game instead of a walk off game-winning home run."


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weather Update - This is June, eh?

So, if I do this regularly, will I be expecting more readers, or just complaints from the few that already read here now and again.

It's June. No, it's EARLY June, and we've already experienced RECORD HEAT in the Riverbend/metro STL area. And today (Sunday) was not as bad as originally forecast because of a line of thunderstorms that developed overnight and into the early part of the day. The clouds kept the extreme heat from pushing into the area. But, it's coming back.

Here's the forecast for tonight into Tuesday:


Overnight: Partly cloudy, with a low around 70. Southeast wind between 3 and 5 mph.

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 95. South wind between 5 and 9 mph.

Monday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 74. South wind between 5 and 7 mph.

Tuesday: Sunny and hot, with a high near 97. Heat index values as high as 101. South wind between 6 and 10 mph.

+++++

Seems like this time of year we don't catch "a break" in the American Oktoberfest Region --- but at least we know it will be nice come late in September.

We can hardly wait for Oktoberfest (and the Riverbend Oktoberfest will be huge!)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Riverbend Oktoberfest - and Kartoffelfest

Here's the scoop. Coming soon to the Riverfront Amphitheater at Riverfront Park in Alton, Illinois --- the RIVERBEND OKTOBERFEST --- and KARTOFFELFEST.

1) Riverbend Oktoberfest - is an ethnically German festival. A heritage event linking the past to the present.

2) Kartoffelfest - the Festival within a Festival.

So, what are these two events? Well, you can find out the details at the pages on http://www.riverbendoktoberfest.com/

There's more about the Kartoffelfest coming to that website soon, but for now there is a contest or two that cooks may want to enter --- it's not an event for professionals (although they can enter, too). What it will be featuring at this point is a contest for those who make POTATO PANCAKES (Kartoffelpuffer or Kartoffel Pfankuchen) or GERMAN POTATO SALAD recipes.

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1) Oktoberfest is being brought to the Riverbend because of the rich history filled with European immigrants from the Germanic nations that moved into Madison County, as well as the surrounding counties of Jersey, Macoupin, Greene, St. Clair and Calhoun. Although German may have gone through numerous border changes over the past 500 years, those who came to the United States since the 1700s have long held festivals to connect them to their past. In fact, those who know the history of Oktoberfest in Munich know there's nothing like a true Oktoberfest party. Gem├╝tlichkeit - or loosely translate a "festive cosiness" - is hard to say but east to feel at an Oktoberfest when the music is playing, the dancers are moving, and the food and drinks are being enjoyed with family and friends. The Riverbend Oktoberfest is a new event in 2011, but the ethnically German event with a distincly European flavor will once again be seen in Alton for the first time in decades. No --- there is no attack upon our local church festivals at St. Mary's or Resurrection --- it's just time to have a genuine Oktoberfest with German music and dance as one of the main features. It will be a winner for the future of our area --- showcasing the beauty of the Riverfront Amphitheater and the park itself as well as helping to evoke the emotions for older generations and stir a new interest for the younger generations.

2) Kartoffelfest - the Festival within a Festival. This is new to our area. Kartoffelfest can be almost anything at all involving the potato. There will be some children's games along with the recipe/cooking contests involving those who create kartoffelpuffer aka potato pancakes OR Kartoffelsalat aka German potato salad.

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Here's the thing: this is a scoop if you read this blog. The formal announcement has not been made just yet --- but will be coming in the next couple of weeks.

You won't want to miss the "tapping of the first keg" event on Friday, September 30, 2011 at just after 5 pm (looking at 5:11 pm or so) --- there will be dignitaries and media, sponsors and lots of others who have been looking forward to the best new festival in the American Oktoberfest Region.

We will be sharing more with some of our media partners in the upcoming weeks --- and you'll be seeing much more on their pages as well as here and at News St. Louis.

One thing we all need is this: prayers for good weather. This is an outdoor event scheduled for a weekend when the weather is normally mild and dry --- but prayers will help. And pray for all of the workers who will be doing their part to make our part of the region look appealing and friendly. They'll be doing a great service to the Riverbend. And they have my personal thanks now, during the Riverbend Oktoberfest, and beyond.

Friday, March 25, 2011

All the Ragin

I should have posted an update long ago on this subject. It's good news. Despite a business split between the owners of the Ragin Cajun Piano Bar in downtown Alton, it survived and reopened and is doing well. Aaron Agne and Chris Keidel had a good thing going when they opened it, and it continues under sole-ownership of Agne.

If you get a chance to see the great entertainment inside, don't just take a seat and drink. Eat some of the food, as it is a restaurant with a bar and entertainment.

Last time I checked, it still served the best fried pickles in southwest Illinois. Just so you know, I don't generally like dill pickles --- but my opinion is that these are worthwhile, with a hint of spice, the right amount of grease (hey, it's FRIED), and a flavorful dipping sauce that is enjoyable.

+++++

Meanwhile, those who got used to seeing Chris Keidel at Ragin Cajun don't have far to go if they want to visit with him. He has been relocated to the Big Muddy Pub around the corner from Ragin Cajun, where he tends bar or watches the door and holds court with the patrons and passers-by that stop in for a beverage. Chris and I have had some great conversations over ICED TEA (it's really good and fresh-brewed in the Big Muddy) since he left the Cajun.

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Okay and one more item to report:

The Riverbend is the "3D Entertainment Capitol of the World"
The Riverbend is the "3D Entertainment Capital of the World"
Those are copyright 2010-2011 by buzzmusicmedia, and SM servicemark by buzzmusicmedia, and trademarked by buzzmusicmedia.

Just in case someone wants to try to claim my "3D Entertainment Capitol of the World" --- I want all to know that I started using this moniker in the spring and summer of 2010.

Others who want to use this may face a potential lawsuit...so, don't steal what is someone else's. In this case, don't steal what I created. I don't claim to be overly creative --- but this one is something I will not relinquish without a monetary transaction.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Understanding People

I'd like to understand those who "have" more than I do. But right now it appears difficult for me to comprehend how those who "have money" have any right to stifle progress. It sure appears to be the case many times over from things that I have witnessed or experienced over the past 20 years. It's been especially troubling that some of the people I have come to know personally who have a few hundred thousand dollars or millions in their bank accounts --- well, the troubling part is how lazy they have become because they have the money. It's something different from having the leisure time to go places --- THAT I totally understand. When you have the money, take extra vacations, see the world and do things that you could not afford to do when you didn't have the money. See, that is how many of us in the world know someone has it made --- when you can see their faces have fewer brows of worry and more smiles come out of the person or persons. No --- what I do not understand is when someone has money just WHY do they not put it back into the community somehow and somewhere.

First off, I'll point out that some people I know who have saved up money and gone from being one of the less-fortunate to the well-off honestly do a LOT of major work for the surrounding community. It's not those people I am concerned about or griping about. Those are the great treasures of our lives because they have found ways of giving well beyond what they thought was possible in their lifetime.

It is the lazy ones that confound me. They can give of themselves monetarily and physically, but somehow don't do either. Investing can be something they can do selfishly, but do not find other avenues appealing enough to donate money, time, talents to causes that would benefit from their just showing up.

And that, is where it goes from here. Just showing up.

When someone shows up for an event, a meeting, to put themselves into the heart of a matter than can be made better for just their physical existence --- the results are almost instant, even if they only stay around for a few minutes. There is an impact in much the same way as you see the waves running away from the pebble in the calm lake. It takes movement to make movement --- and once in awhile I'd like to see those who can move the world with just a little money and/or time actually DO that.

In our area, I won't point out one of the people who sits and does nothing or does very little with their money and their talent. I'll just ask you to look and see if they are near you. And if they are, would you consider prodding them do help out with...well...anything that can be done to make this a better world...would ya?

On the other hand, I want to say "thank you very much" for all of the people who volunteer to take on extra tasks and live through headaches, nightmares, and backbreaking work to make the surrounding area a better place to live and work and play.

Thank you for being there. Thank you for showing up.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Following The (Majestic) Birds

"It's January," he stated the obvious to the audience, "meaning that we have a chance to view the beautiful majesty of the national bird of the United States of America. The bald eagles are in our region once again in much the same way the swallows return to Capistrano. The magnificent birds are making their annual stop in the Riverbend, sticking closely to the areas near the rivers so they can find food. But it's also somewhat for the entertainment of the human species, it would seem."

In the crowd someone makes a mental note: Surely, this is another person who is going to be attacked by groups of left-wing nutjobs or right-wing nutjobs. He's discussing the American Bald Eagle and hasn't brought up American Eagle Outfitters once. The crowd seems to notice this gaffe.
"How dare he not bring up an esteemed retailer!"
"For shame, not talking about the fashions we love to wear in the winter!"
"Does anyone remember the AMC Eagle in the 1970s?"

Oh, great. A skewed conversation already.

The speaker continues:
"It's around this time every year that the temperatures are cold and the eagles fly to the area around the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers as well as the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, and points from about 125 miles north of here to about 125 miles south of here. We're among the luckiest of Americans because living near Alton gives us a clear chance to view eagles for several weeks. We've had visitors from North Carolina and Georgia who arrived after the new year just so they can take part in this human ritual --- following the bald eagles as they almost endlessly ride a wave of rising air above the waters near the bluffs, or take a dive near the locks and dam to the rushing waters where they have just spied the fish they intend to have for lunch. It's following these eagles that have resulted in some of the most beautiful large bird photographs in the twenty-first century. All visitors are encouraged to bring their binoculars, cameras and video cameras to capture the eagles in flight."

This is pretty good stuff, even though I have heard all of this before. But it gives me a moment to pause and reflect upon the many times when my family has gathered together to stop at the river's edge to look up to the sky and watch these large creatures with the brown (not just brown, but a beautiful brown --- almost an oxymoron to say beautiful brown on any creature) feathers seem almost completely still as they take an airstream and float high above the waters in wait for that exact moment that they are seeking so they may look like a WWII flying ace and drop in an almost straight line for the water where that gigantic fish is slowly --- at least to the bird it's slow --- moving around just below the surface.

I hear someone in the crowd of people gathered near the dam say "That fish is a goner, for sure."

No doubt about it as within a few seconds that bird has pierced the fish in just the right place and is flying toward the sky to who knows where so it can devour the tasty morsel.

"That fish could feed a couple of hungry men," says a man who is voicing almost exactly what I keep thinking as we all see what has to be a ten pounder in the talons --- it looks lopsided in favor of the bird, firmly a bald eagle which has been around the North American continent a few years.

We all watch as the bird rushes northwest up the river past the city of Alton and continues for a long way toward its hideout. Even with the best binoculars and steadiest hands or tripod with a telescopic lense, that bird is gone from the view in what seems like only several seconds. It may have taken three or four minutes in all to be out of sight, but it was traveling in such a strong, yet graceful, manner that it was being viewed by its human followers as only having taken a moment in time. Is it really possible that we witnessed this GRAB AND GO and it only took the time that gecko says it would take to convert our car insurance?

Alas, we are not able to see where the prey has taken its catch. So we return our eyes to the closer sky view and seek another one of these big feathered creatures and the chance to see yet another dive toward the waters, or one that slowly comes into view from the bluffs at Alton and finds a wave of air to ride for several minutes between actual flaps of its wings.

A young woman exclaims to her young man, "This never gets old to me. I just love coming out here year after year to see these majestic birds!"

And she has summed up what so many of us think --- and almost word for word what the nature guide says year after year as he turns to a group of viewers near the Mississippi with an American Bald Eagle in sight.

Let's do it again and again --- and be awe inspired by something we may never see up close.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sometimes I Hate Having a Scoop

I love ice cream. It can be the accompanying part of a dessert such as with a helping of bread pudding and make complete the entire dessert. And I've enjoyed this very dish at RAGIN CAJUN PIANO BAR in downtown Alton several times.

I am a reporter by nature. On occasion, I've been the person who had a "scoop" on a story. Sometimes this is a positive thing of which to be proud, and sometimes it's just another in a long line of stories.

UNFORTUNATELY --- I HAVE A SCOOP involving both ice cream and the RAGIN CAJUN. Well...sorta.

Last night on Facebook, RAGIN CAJUN PIANO BAR announced its own scoop. It will be closing this week unless an agreement can be worked out between the partners involved in its ownership.

Chris Keidel has been a face that all kinds of people from around the RiverBend have come to see inside the Ragin Cajun --- he is one of the two owners --- as far as I know there wasn't a day in the life of Ragin Cajun when Chris was away from the business. Aaron Agne is the other and was frequently seen behind the bar, in the balcony (office), outside with customers during the warmer weather, or even in a restaurant booth on the busier nights. Aaron wasn't around 100 percent of the time, but in any business one person usually takes a less hands-on approach. Such is how it is with these partners: Chris was hands-on, and Aaron --- while still a presence --- was not there every night.

If my scoop is correct (anyone who has taken a tour knows this to be true), Chris and Aaron have been putting their sweat and lives on the line to open up, maintain, and expand Ragin Cajun during one of the worst economic times in the history of any currently-living person. Despite this, countless people came in during 2010 and gave the restaurant (or the bar) a chance. Some of the spring and summer customers left thinking "I liked it, but it isn't open enough" --- thus, they expanded their hours in late summer and it was paying off. Chris and Aaron had listened to these people. There were new customers, new piano players, and bigger sales of food and liquor. As you can tell, I was partial to the food --- my family ate at the Ragin Cajun on several occasions, and even though our own personal economy tanked this fall, we still went and enjoyed ourselves greatly.

But...if the two cannot come to an accord today or tomorrow, this is the swan song for a destination for so many.

++++++++++

Now a bit about the "DESTINATION" part of RAGIN CAJUN PIANO BAR.

Note that key ingredient in the name: PIANO.

Over the summer, the staff who played on the keyboards grew. They added a drum set behind the keys, and suddenly it was taking a new life. This fall I was part of something special when on a Monday the musicians/entertainers were practicing. They were having a good evening, mixing it up, trying new songs out on those of us who were there --- getting some tips to improve their show. Suddenly there came a stranger into the place. We patrons didn't know what to expect, nor did the keyboard performers who had been working on their craft, when Travis sat at the keys with a drink in his hand and started playing. Actually, I think Travis said to Charlie and Jeff, "Can I sit and play one?" He did. And then another...and another...and suddenly we were all singing with him, myself included. Chris took notice. Several of us had the same reaction: hire this guy. And Chris did just that --- hiring Travis, setting things in motion for the remainder of the fall/winter. His existence helped push the younger piano talent in a positive direction --- in a matter of days there was a buzz about how much fun it was inside the restaurant on a regular basis. And the customer base was larger, spending more time and money in "the Cajun" --- the business was finally growing in a way that many of us recognized. It became clear that what happened was putting a happy face on so many people. You could see it when Charlie and Jeff played; when Carl and Travis were teamed up; when Brian beat on the drums and the electricity was in the air; when Melanie had so many customers that she couldn't rest on her trips from the kitchen to the tables and booths, and even on Chris' face on the slower nights when the bar was busy but the kitchen crew was able to do detailed cleanup. Customers, whether bar regulars or restaurant regulars, all had this feeling that we'd just witnessed the turnaround of the business at the Ragin Cajun and perhaps the entire downtown Alton economy --- because 2009 was pretty humdrum outside of the block parties. Now, we had another piece of the puzzle --- a place where the music flowed, the energy was terrific, and the atmosphere was electric. We had a destination --- even for nights when we didn't want food or drinks from the bar we could go and have dessert or a late night breakfast --- and we had musical talent enriching our lives --- Ragin Cajun Piano Bar drew people from outside of the immediate RiverBend on a nightly basis.
(One patron has so many pictures on Facebook that weeks ago I deemed her the Ragin Cajun photojournalist. She comes regularly from Edwardsville, and I dare say that her routine will be dramatically altered if this venue closes.)

++++++++++

It takes quite a lot to make any place a destination. But it was apparent that RAGIN CAJUN Piano Bar was a destination to hundreds of people each week.

Now, I have to wonder if there will be a last-minute savior who can keep open one of the brightest upstart businesses Alton has seen in quite a long time. I do not know what it is that Aaron wants or expects (other than money) out of a deal like this one, but if he simply wants too much money in a buyout, I guess he's going to lose a lot more than most of us. If Aaron forces the closure of Ragin Cajun, the customers cannot help him out.

What I wonder is this: is there someone in the RiverBend who can come into the picture and "save" our endangered destination? Who is he or she? Will they show up in the nick of time?

I will be at RAGIN CAJUN tonight. I need to show my personal support for these people, even though I am unable to put up the money necessary to buy out Aaron --- unless I won the jackpot of a lottery and don't know it.

It seems like an appropriate time for me to ask more questions and, as the late Paul Harvey always said, get THE REST OF THE STORY.

I sure hope that I have good news by this Friday.