Sunday, May 2, 2010

Existing Conditions Are Good

My previous blog mentions the idea that the RiverBend, starting with Alton, Illinois, is being primed to become the next MUSICIANS ROW --- a destination for musicians, singers, composers, lyricists, entertainers, and others involved in the arts --- specially suited for an active music community. This is one of many thoughts that may well come to be sooner rather than later because Alton IL and The RiverBend area, in general, is one of the easiest areas to access in the entire United States.

First off, discussing the accessibility issues of Alton vs Branson. Traffic jams: Branson can't stop the vehicle traffic from coming and going --- because it really has no other options. Alton IL, however, has all of the various modes of transportation. The obvious is --- the waters of the Mississippi River and Illinois River flow right to the RiverBend. The Missouri River, while lesser known for the traveler, exits at Hartford, just a short trip back upstream takes a traveler to the Alton Marina --- a magnificent piece of work which seems to become more vibrant every week. Water is not the only means of transportation to and from The RiverBend. Let's immediately go to the vehicle traffic. With Interstates 55, 44, 70, 270, and 64 all within 40 minutes of Alton, there is a plethora (always use this word to impress sports guys) of ways to get to here from out of town. And even once you're in the metro area, you have a choice of how to get to Alton. Via U.S. 67 (from 270, go north on Hwy 367, which becomes U.S. 67 at the end of Lindbergh/67 in North St. Louis County) --- continue north to the strikingly beautiful Clark Bridge --- and you're in for a treat: the bridge itself is a work of art and structure, but look at the skyline of Alton, the riverfront area --- especially the marina and Riverfront Amphitheater, and the beauty of the bluffs. If you're coming from I-270 from I-70 in Illinois, come north on Route 3 in whichever way you choose. You can go through along the "Berm Highway" just before you get to Wood River, or you can continue in to East Alton and take Broadway through town into downtown Alton.
What isn't immediately obvious is TRAINS. But, yes, the Amtrak stops in Alton. And for those who have missed the recent changes in local MCT/Madison County Transit routes, there is a bus route which comes to the Amtrak station and goes through town to the downtown bus depot, giving out of town people easy access to the RiverBend/Alton riverfront. So --- that leaves bus service. Well, okay --- you can still get to Alton using Greyhound to St. Louis and make the trip via Amtrak to Alton, or during weekdays you can grab an MCT bus in downtown St. Louis and get to the Alton area. But, there's always a friend who will help you get to Alton.
Once here --- the musicians will find that they're not alone. Sure, at the moment Alton isn't the sprawling music headquarters it is likely to become in the next 20 years. But it has a music and arts scene, tied into local musicians and venues. With the Riverfront Amphitheater now becoming a good place to stop (and the Argosy still books some interesting shows a few hundred feet away from the amphitheater), there has been interest building in the downtown Alton clubs where musicians come to perform. Bossa Nova has live music as an example. Most people who already know about Fast Eddie's Bon-Air also have come to expect live music there at least three times a week. The Jacoby Arts Center is already a local place where musicians are performing and works of art are showcased. And there's the Alton Municipal Band, the Alton Symphony Orchestra --- for the music lovers --- and if a composer writes a good piece, these organizations could be counted upon to perform a good work in a live setting.
This is going to be a fantastic move for Alton and The RiverBend area, too, to promote the wide variety of music heard here. Why, just the other day I saw them pickin' the banjo and gueetars in Godfrey. Them folk even had thems a string-bass player in the parking lot across from Lewis & Clark Community College! You NEVER know where you'll run into music, who will be performing, or lack varied styles and musical genres.
But --- the announcement isn't quite ready for "prime time". There are still some pieces of the overall puzzle to be worked out between businesses and civic organizations before a plan is announced. That shouldn't keep the music community from becoming excited about the future of MUSICIANS ROW in The RiverBend.
Musicians/singers/performers/composers/lyricists/entertainers already live here. We're just preparing everyone for the eventual influx of the same kinds of personalities to show up here between 2010 and 2030. By the time it's all done --- it may well be a city with 24/7 music in live venues, as well as a thriving writers group. We should keep in mind there are new business models being developed to replace the failing part of the recording industry --- and we should all encourage those new kinds of publishers and recording companies to locate their headquarters in The RiverBend MUSICIANS ROW, too.
Oh --- not saying it can't happen, but I'm not expecting Steve Jobs to show up in the RiverBend within the next couple of years with an Apple/iPod/iPad application to show off at the announcement for MUSICIANS ROW. Maybe someone will become brave enough to call Apple and get them to consider such a thing. You never know until you try --- and at least we are seeing people try to bring music alive in The RiverBend.
And that's going to be a great buzz for generations to come.

RiverBend Thoughts: Spring 2010

It's been a very interesting time of personal growth and introspective/perspective thus far for me. Having grown up with family from Alton, Fosterburg, Godfrey, etc., and having made friends in the RiverBend all my life, in 2009 when I moved to the RiverBend to LIVE, I discovered and rediscovered things I am thoroughly enjoying.

In short --- I'm truly happy in the RiverBend.

We have the best of everything within walking or driving distance of my residence in Upper Alton. Sundays are particularly interesting, as we usually go to brunch after church. Aunt Sam's on College Avenue near Washington Avenue has been our "regular" Sunday brunch hangout. We get to see Charley Kevilus (formerly known as Joey) "the can man" almost every Sunday midday there, and a lot of local people have made it a semi-regular habit. That's just one thing my family happens to do. We do partake of local establishments at other times of the day and week, too. Because of yardwork, I've made it a habit the past two weeks to visit St. Peters Hardware. What a great family business --- all the things I need without going to the big box stores.
This spring weather has given us pause to see some of the area on those "nice" weather days, and we did what a lot of people from our region do regularly --- took a drive up THE GREAT RIVER ROAD. We just happened to start from Godfrey this time with a bit of gasoline in the tank and rolled up Route 3 over to Grafton (for a change...see, we usually go down Washington Avenue to Broadway and go through downtown Alton, but since we were in Godfrey when we decided to go to Grafton, we did the Rte. 3 roadway). Once there, we were thinking about going to long-time favorite spot Pere Marquette State Park. However, we altered our plans and went all the way up to Hardin, down into Brussels in Calhoun County, getting to see some lovely scenery in Madison, Jersey, Greene and Calhoun Counties along the way. One has to see the bluffs along the Great River Road to appreciate some of the beauty of God's creation --- the bluffs never cease to amaze me, no matter how many times I may have already traveled along them in my lifetime.

But, here's the thing: I'm finding that I am enjoying outdoors much more in The RiverBend (okay, since I live in Alton, I'll probably be talking mostly about Alton here for a moment) than I did in St. Louis. For purposes of background, I maintain that my life would have had a great void if I didn't have the experiences of both sides of the RiverBend Region. And just so all those friends in St. Louis/St. Charles/Franklin/Jefferson Counties in MO know, it's become increasingly obvious to me that St. Louis was an afterthought to The RiverBend area around Alton. St. Louis just happened to grow faster in the mid-1800s than did Alton and the rest of the Illinois side --- where the area's real growth potential began with Lewis & Clark. I'll say it again --- many of the best things in life are right here in this region --- we have the best of everything. But look particularly along the Mighty Mississippi River, the Illinois River, the Missouri River and the confluences of each at The RiverBend, and you'll see why it's so easy to make people from other parts of the country (even the world) envious of what we have right HERE! Spring has given me a chance to see the beauty of nature, the power of weather phenomena, and the varied ideas that people have to make attractive those things and objects along the rivers, bluffs, valleys, rolling hills, and farmlands.

Farmlands: Not something some of my city friends necessarily think about or even visit. But when they do, it's easy to give them a perspective about how "we" in the U.S. can take for granted the agriculturally-based economics. The St. Louis "city folk" as some might call them (again, for purposes of disclosure, I lived in St. Louis City for more than ten years --- that doesn't make me less appreciative of my family heritage) can be informed about the great farm fields literally minutes from their homes. In Madison County, Illinois, some of the richest farming soil in the world is along The RiverBend in the bottoms. Sure, there are other places in Illinois and Iowa and Kansas and Missouri and Nebraska which could all claim farmlands which are equal to, or perhaps better than, the soil. But all are doing the same thing: growing the foods used to feed our world and make industry productive, as soybeans and corn can do for our economy. Taking a look at it weekly for a period of months would probably help those in St. Louis better understand why we have what we have in our region. The farmers' work really does make a difference today as it did in all of those yesterdays/yesteryears. And whereas the only farming I have done to date is picking asparagus and veggies from my grandparents' farm, and helping mow the grass at the field's edge, I came to have the proper appreciation for our farmers as a child.

Riverfront activities: Here is where I think we are lucky --- and St. Louisans probably will see my point, many of them agreeing in what I say (some will not). Along the Great River Road in the RiverBend area, we have this ebb and flow not only of the waters in flood seasons, but the ebb and flow of activity in the spring, causing so many from around the world to come see the some of the attractions we have to offer. Because of the beauty of the bluffs and the trees along the peaks of the rivers, our ever-changing bird population, and the easy accessibility to all of this, we are prime for our spring influx of tourism. This will ramp up even more come summer when many families take vacations and drive across the heartland of the United States of America. What I believe is that if just a few of us in the RiverBend tell our friends or relatives (Facebook friends/relatives, perhaps) to check out our area, we'll be seeing something that boosts our overall presence and economic condition when they all come to visit.
I'd like to point out that if someone does make "the pitch" to friends and family about coming to visit this area, one thing they should do is see if there is activity at The Riverfront Amphitheater along the Alton end of the Clark Bridge. Even if there is nothing scheduled, tell them to stop at the park and walk along the edge of the Mississippi River, walk over to the Amphitheater and see this beautiful structure. From the park and the Riverfront Amphitheater, they can look up at the side of the bluffs where Alton sticks out as a beautiful city. This is one of the most attractive things about Alton --- it has beautiful old structures with such varied architecture overlooking the RiverBend and the riverfront. Meanwhile, you should note to whomever you're "pitching" to come here that there's never a lack of something to do around here, either, even on a Monday (I'm curious to find out why so many restaurants and shops are closed on Mondays here). With the numerous sites to see, and the communities so welcoming and friendly, it's easy to feel invited by the residents. And if they decide to show up on a weekend in the RiverBend, there are so many different churches around that they're sure to find one that is to their liking for their worship activities. I could go along this point for paragraphs, but it will wait for another entry or two down the road.

Upswing: Not that I can truly say there's an obvious positive in the overall economic condition of our world, but it appears to me that Alton and the RiverBend has - perhaps - weathered the seriously bad economic times as good or better than a lot of communities in North America. Maybe losing glass plants, refractories, steel plants, and oil production years ago has left this area with a better and more stable economy. Sure it would be ideal to have kept all of those businesses going in the area --- but it happened, and this area is poised to grow even stronger in the next 30 years. And I'd like to point out that when I say an upswing in Alton and beyond is likely, it doesn't take an economics major to show the outsiders both the bad and the good. But, because the bad has been universal and the good not-so-universal over the past three years, the good around the RiverBend can be shown through figures that prove our regional leaders are working to making a positive long-term impact with projects such as Riverfront Amphitheater, the block parties in downtown Alton, the new business coming through the enhancements at Conoco-Phillips refinery, and even the not-so-good stuff: when the levee system is strengthened over the next decade. These are all positives, in addition to the other enhancements which will be introduced to provide economic impact through enhanced tourism.

By the way, here's an announcement that is sure to make waves: Alton is poised to become the next "musicians row" in the world. Like long ago in New York City, Alton is about to have an influx of professional musicians, music composers, lyricists, singers, and entertainers. Details will be coming out over the next several months and years. This is a long-term project, but one which will make Alton a worldwide destination for the music community AND music fans. No, we're not likely going to be the next Nashville overnight. But the RiverBend has many of the right tools and infrastructure to become a worldwide center for musicians, composers, singers, even publishers --- and dramatically so, in the next decade.

Just so you know, the Riverfront Amphitheater is one of the big reasons the RiverBend area will come to be "Musicians Row": think Branson without the headache traffic jams, and with a wider variety of music being performed. And once a few more venues have opened up, it is very possibly going to be almost Las Vegas-like because of all the 24-hour-a-day venues which will be home to music and performance. Credit also the Jacoby Arts Center for bringing this area some publicity to the world outside of this region. Yes --- word really does spread about the little things being done to enhance a place like Alton.

If there's a date to let people know more about this long-term project, it will (likely) be released here almost simultaneously with other local outlets like, Z1570 and in The Telegraph. I am excited about this spring around this region. And this summer --- whoa, baby! Look out for all those new faces coming to visit the RiverBend and seeing the enhancements and future of the region.

Can you hear the music yet?