Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ringing In The Holidays: Alton Symphony Orchestra, Christmas Wonderland

Sometimes it's difficult to say what it is that puts us in a particular place. Occasionally, it's simple timing that has set someone in motion toward that place.

Recently, I found myself set into motion and landing in the trombone section of the Alton Symphony Orchestra. And now there's this ringing in my ears that sounds like Peter I. Tchaikovsky and Leroy Anderson and Mel Torme, with seasonal songs from Christmas and Hannukah. Perhaps that has something to do with the upcoming concert music we're performing --- well, yes, of course it does. We're performing the majority of Symphony #1 in G-minor opus 13 (Tchaikovsky) --- Winter Dreams --- and other selections at an upcoming concert at Alton High School, December 12th at 8:00 p.m. (note the time), in the auditorium, located at 4200 Humbert Road. Wm. Shane Williams will conduct this concert, the second in the 65th Season of the Alton Symphony Orchestra (nee Alton Civic Orchestra --- see the ASO website for detailed history). As I missed the first concert of the season due to commitments with another group, I am unable to say how the acoustics and environment of the auditorium at AHS feels to the on-stage musicians, but I hope that there will be a large number of patrons of the arts come to the performance and let us know how it sounds. We've been putting in many hours of practice to get these arrangements "down pat", and we're hoping the payoff will be a nice performance on this big stage.

For online information about the Alton Symphony Orchestra, see the website
If you'd like to make a phone call, ASO president Jerre Honke will answer your questions at (618) 462-2314.

Tickets for individual concerts are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $5 for children up to 12 years of age. AHS and LCCC students are free with I.D.
Tickets may be purchased at Duke Bakery at 819 Henry in Alton, Halpin Music at 2375 Homer Adams Parkway in Alton, and Dick's Flowers located at 2621 College in Alton, or in Wood River at 232 N. Wood River Avenue. Tickets are available at the door, and if you order on the ASO website through PayPal, your tickets will be at the WILL CALL window at the AHS Auditorium.

Ring in the holidays with music from the Alton Symphony Orchestra.
[But, please...if I miss an entrance on the Tchaikovsky Symph. #1 fourth movement...please, please, please be kind. It's been 13 years since I played in the ASO or any other symphony orchestra.]


The wonder of lights at the holidays is back, big and beautiful in the RiverBend.

Christmas Wonderland returns to Alton's Rock Spring Park (2116 College Avenue) for the 18th year. Again this year, the "Grandpa Gang" has put in thousands of hours stringing up the light display for the tens of thousands of people who will drive (or perhaps make the walk-through on Monday, November 30, 2009) through the hillside attraction. Donations are $7 per car, with vehicles filled with ten or more occupants (vans, small buses) at $1 per person, through the one-and-a-half mile long park road.

The recent news report online at says over three-million lights are used in this year's Christmas Wonderland display, although the Christmas Wonderland website says 2.5-million lights --- eh, what's a half-million lights among friends, eh? Either way, those numbers are impressive --- a volunteer group putting up such a vast display with lights numbering in the millions! Kudos to the Grandpa Gang!

The hours for the display are 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on weekends, and 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on weeknights. For 2009, the last date is December 27th. Directions and other information about this year's Christmas Wonderland display are here. This year, carriage rides are available primarily on the weekends on a first-come/first-served basis, or through reservations you can make online by emailing or by telephone at 618-458-6986. The cost is $20 for the first couple, with an additional $5 per person after that.

A petting zoo is part of the activities available, and the kids can feed the animals for $0.50, with feed available in the Santa Claus House. Photos at the Santa Claus House are $5 each.

For more information on the Christmas Wonderland or other attractions in the RiverBend area, you can contact the Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-258-6645 (or 1-800-ALTON-IL).

If you're an environmental watcher, you'll be happy to note that this year's display is using many more LED lights to enhance the display with brighter lights as well as making it more "green" friendly.

Volunteer organizations will staff the park and display throughout the festive nights.

Light up the night with friends and family --- make it a destination --- Christmas Wonderland in Rock Spring Park.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Alton Riverfront: National Destination in the Making

Not that I think this has not been or isn't debated frequently in the homes and businesses in the Riverbend, even in the news publications, blogs and websites --- but it seems to me that the Alton Riverfront is poised for an exciting period of time within the next decade. The Riverfront Amphitheater recently joined a delightful Alton Marina and the pedestrian-friendly Riverfront Park area, BUT it seems like it is missing an element which could bring Alton back into the FOREFRONT of the American public scene.

Sure I'm talking BIG, thinking BIGGER, and may I now suggest that there is at least one more project which would make the Alton riverfront a NATIONAL DESTINATION for many more people than those who like that majestic (and obviously functional) bridge over the Mississippi River. The Clark Bridge is a marvelous focal point, to be sure, but can serve as a supportive background for another act. No, I do not mean all of the ghost-hunting tourists.

This probably isn't a completely new idea, but I've not seen it spelled out in the writings I have read --- so here goes my BIG IDEA:


Before you simply claim it to be a lame or unworkable idea, think about missed opportunities.

Other cities have been presented ideas such as this and either taken the bull by the horns and prospered (Milwaukee WI has a first-class festival grounds used every warm weekend along Lake Michigan for 30 years or more) or has dropped the ball when presented this option. Let's pick on our largest neighbors for a moment. A chance to carve a national niche with a large festival grounds nestled inside downtown St. Louis in the 1990s was passed over by city officials in favor of...(drumroll and cymbal crash)...a large warehouse/distribution building. St. Louis passed up a piece of the national and/or worldwide tourism pie which could have drawn an additional several million people each year to this region for the past decade --- visitors who spend their time and money at festivals elsewhere. But it is true that dozens of people are employed at the Gateway distribution warehouse as many distribution warehouses on Hall Street in St. Louis are vacant, maybe employing a few security guards. Urban planners are quick to point out that cities of all sizes must use prime downtown land for something significant. If you drive along M.L. King at 21st Street in St. Louis, you can see for yourself what could have been. It's not hard to imagine.

Back to the Riverbend and not missing an opportunity in Alton.

It's 2009. The Alton Riverfront has come a long way since 1993. It is a fine work in progress, as anyone who hasn't seen it much since 2000 and suddenly took a day to walk along the stated area would tell you. Additionally, there is hope that the Riverbend's local movers and shakers will seize the moment and react better than the region's largest city. I urge everyone in power and with a voice to make sure we do not miss this great chance awaiting us. Sure, I can give you details. But we need more than details.

Not losing the opportunity being presented requires action.
What is the necessary action? It is a must to carve out the land area necessary for this to occur.

If you travel along Landmarks Blvd., then you probably can come away with an idea of what I envision. The trick is to make satisfied those who would feel they are being encroached upon by "progress".

This should not be labeled "too difficult" a task by the forward-thinking members of the city of Alton or the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau or the RiverBend Growth Association. Yes, it is visually obvious that Alton has a nice start already in place. Made more culturally significant with the Marina, Amphitheater and Riverfront Park, adding a festival grounds along the Mississippi River brings Alton one simple step from surpassing St. Charles as the best regional riverfront destination other than the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

To be sure, I am NOT suggesting Alton will draw many millions of people to such a small area. However, I am betting that several hundred thousand per year is not impossible. It doesn't seem such a bad idea to have thousands coming to Alton most weeks, does it?

It starts with growth at a logical focal point --- the Alton Riverfront. Imagine what could happen with a thriving festival grounds filled with thousands of tourists, an active Amphitheater, a busy Marina, and well-maintained park/green space for residents. Use your mind's eye to see what it would mean to those with businesses in downtown Alton near Piasa Street, along Broadway, as well as throughout the entire Riverbend. This is not a pipe dream, folks - it can be attained.

If you would like to comment, please contact me --- buzzmusicmedia at the good ol' gmail will get a response from me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Retiring Alton Police Chief Chris Sullivan: Riverbend Leader To Stay Active

It's not apparent to everyone, but I've been a news reporter and news anchor, affording me opportunities to meet with what most media types (and Americans in general) call "personalities" in public life. Among those I have been allowed to meet in the past is Alton's retiring Police Chief Chris Sullivan.

Chief Sullivan is not a friend of mine and he may not even remember having had a conversation or interview with me. I'll admit that I don't recall the length of our last interview or the subject --- just that it took place while I worked as a reporter/editor/anchor for Metro Networks' St. Louis news bureau a few years ago, but I recall enough about having talked with Sullivan on more than one occasion to say that I always felt I was being given a great deal of detail and forthrightness when he answered questions. Sullivan was not what a lot of reporters refer to others as "a cloak-and-dagger public official" --- that, by the way, is the type of person who will hide details or holdback information simply because a question was phrased wrong and soon after you leave their presence would puncture you by telling their subordinates to give a particular reporter no more details, or even interviews, until given the green light to so do. Yes, I am saying it happens. But I am clearly saying Chief Chris Sullivan was NOT like this --- he was the kind of leader that Altonians can proudly say was doing "a good job".

Whereas it is true that I cannot state that he was what all of Alton wanted --- the criminal element certainly didn't like his outstanding leadership --- the department made significant strides in ridding Alton of much crime (and those who perpetrated the criminal activity) while under his reign as police chief.

As a recent "move-in" to the city of Alton, I was very happy to tell my family and friends how pleased I was to see the vast improvements made in some neighborhoods with the help of so many in Alton --- but especially because of the law enforcement programs the retiring chief had helped implement, and the elimination of crime as a result of the action of police. Chief Sullivan seemed to be tough in areas where he needed to be tough, and yet most people would say he has been known to be even-handed and even-tempered with his officers and charges. It was that kind of leadership which made him a good fit as police chief for the past seven years. But it is not the end of Chris Sullivan being an area leader in the Riverbend. As he steps away from his desk and the podium at the APD, he moves to a position behind yet another desk and podium at Lewis and Clark Community College where he becomes an educator in the school's criminal justice program. One can surmise that his days of leadership are far from over even if he is retiring from being an active police chief.

I don't know where Chief Sullivan resides in the Riverbend, but I'm sure as things go I will one day run into him somewhere around town. I plan on thanking him for his public service and genuine character. If he is the same in person without a uniform as he has been all these years IN uniform, Sullivan will probably say it was just part of the job.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Riverfront Amphitheater

Okay, I'm still doing research on amphitheaters located on the North American continent, primarily in the United States, but I have found one thing that is good and one thing that is questionable (this may be due to my lack of knowledge about the Riverfront amphitheater in Alton) as I see it. The good thing is --- it exists and the site is in a terrific place for events near downtown Alton and the Clark Bridge. The questionable thing is not so bad: other venues have a greater capacity for patrons, and in many cases have added seating using "stadium style seats".

As I have been looking at the Alton Riverfront area, I notice that there is something that can still be added upon, IF someone has the guts and foresight to take a few hundred thousand dollars to put into play another tract of land near Riverfront Park. And that something/somewhere is the old Great Central Lumber company property --- primarily unused since it closed its Alton location. I think that if someone were to rehabilitate that property, it would enhance the whole of the riverfront area. If someone has any contact information regarding this property and who may be able to kick-start such a project --- please have them contact me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Something Summer Says

Growing up with family in the Riverbend, I spent much of my youth going to patriotic events. Here we are in summer, with Flag Day recently passed, but other fine things on the horizon.

Reading in the Telegraph, I see that on Monday, 29 June, 2009, there will be what can be considered a patriotic event along Illinois Route 140 at Gordon Moore Park. That is the 10:00 a.m. ceremony marking the new "name" along the stretch of that highway from IL 255 to the Homer Adams Parkway: "AMERICAN VETERANS MEMORIAL PARKWAY".

Having read the copyright story in the Telegraph, I note that Dan Brannan is giving due credit to Marion Ray, who spearheaded the idea that such a designation be given a stretch of road in Alton. Mr. Ray, a World War II prisoner of war and U.S. Army veteran, is deserving of such credit. If he did not dream up such an idea and put many hours, weeks, months and years of effort into contacting the right people at the local, state and federal levels, it may never have become a reality. But, thankfully, it will be a reality.

It's also the celebration of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America come July 4th. And I can hardly wait to see the fireworks.

In the Riverbend, we know how lucky/blessed we are, with the Regional Airport in Bethalto showcasing a so-called "Fireworks Festival", ending with a nice display Sunday night, 28 June 2009. I recall many of my younger days sitting near the riverfront in Alton and watching a great display of fireworks on the 4th of July (or whichever nearby date or dates were scheduled). I can hardly wait to see this year's Grand Finale!

These are just a few things that make me glad that I'm a Riverbend resident. Oh my, are we lucky and/or blessed to be in this area...I'm looking forward to what summer says to me in the United States of America: "we are free!"

God Bless America --- our home, sweet, home!!!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RiverBend Buzz

Here we are...meeting at the crossroads, or if you prefer, the cross-waters of the Riverbend area where the Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers come together.

This Riverbend is where hearty Americans come to stay for a four-season-long ride for decades. The seasons each have a distinctive flavor and feel, giving us opportunities and sometimes forcing us to change our mindsets and our lives.

This Riverbend is where the issues come up almost any time of year: waters rising and falling; railroad crossings being both beneficial and dangerous --- if proper cautions are not followed.

It's going to be an "understanding" we quickly come into on this blog. It starts with a few notions and ideas from friends, neighbors, relatives, politicians, pastors, and people in general, and we hope it will simply continue as long as the Riverbend exists.

Friends --- and I hope that is what we will be --- I encourage you to voice your opinions, give us points to consider, and THINK!

Thanks for stopping here, even if only for a moment now and then.