Performers and Audiences in the Pandemic Looking Glass

We have always enjoyed going out and seeing live shows, which were all cancelled or postponed as we deliberately distanced ourselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Watching recorded performances is not the same, and likely for performers, putting on a show to an empty room is also unsatisfying. But in this time, a new venue has come forth by artists brave enough to perform live to an audience they cannot see or hear. These shows are both more global and more intimate, at the same time. Now they are highlights of our week, and Peter and I have a date to watch them together, just as if we were able to see the performers at a club.

The first such show to pop up (as a surprise to us) on Peter’s Facebook feed was Matt Dusk singing with live (socially distanced) accompaniment from a beautiful large living room. It was especially poignant to see him since we had tickets to see him in March, and the show had been postponed less than a week before it was too happen.

True to his brand, his streaming Facebook Live show was classy and stylish with sparkles of old-school glamour. About a month later, he put on a similar show, this in a different room (which he called his basement). This one had multiple, mobile cameras and a camera person (or was it Dusk himself?) switching the views and zooming in and out.

Matt Dusk performing live in the nicest basement I’ve ever seen, May 17, 2020
(screen capture from subsequent recorded posting)

Even though he has hundreds of fans watching him from all over the world, his interaction came across as intimate, as if he was putting on the show for just the two of us. At his first streaming show, he brought in his daughter who was dressed to the nines just as he was; at the second he had taken off his tie and suit jacket, and talked about the Polish performer with whom he’d done a bilingual version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” He actually read the comments his fans posted to the feed! Posting makes me feel like a heckler, but Peter and I were blown away to see a response to a question I had submitted.

In the same way (just seeing him pop up on Facebook), we discovered actor & musician Charles Esten is putting out a live show each week. He pops up every so often as a special guest for Sixwire, a band we regularly go to see at Third & Lindsley, a club in Nashville (and whose March concert was also abruptly cancelled.) He is so unassuming and accessible that it’s easy to forget that he’s also a top actor in TV shows. His studio/basement is not that far from us but his fans all over the world know his internet provider is glitchy because he’d have to reboot a few times as the feed froze. (He’s changing internet providers, and his wife is working the production part of the show he tells us all, talking as if we were the closest of friends.)

Chip Esten sings for his fans May 23, 2020

Although he has a sizable catalogue of songs he’s written himself, he will often cover a piece by another artist he wants to showcase. His shows typically include remotely streamed interviews with other musicians and his fellow actors from his current TV show Outer Banks, and sometimes he performs a duet with another musician. And he will promote donations to a charity as the cover charge of our choice.

Our local free weekly advised us to watch Ben Folds’ weekly Apartment Requests, which come on right after Esten’s show. We only have one Ben Folds album, but his Apartment Request shows are amazing beyond watching him perform his songs on a “plastic” (as he dismissively and repeatedly describes it) keyboard in an apartment.

Sometimes (but only rarely) Ben Folds will play the guitar on his Apartment Requests show. May 23, 2020 (May 24, 2020 for him)

These are streaming on YouTube, not Facebook, and he’s had no technical difficulties yet, even though he’s coming online from Sydney, Australia at 9 am his time. Folds was in a tour raising relief funds for those affected by the Australian wildfires earlier this year when the pandemic hit and international borders shut down hard.

So what does a musician like Ben Folds do in quarantine? Of course, he’s writing music, but why not take on camera work, music production, showmanship, and education done all by his same self at the self same time in a weekly show. By the time we found him (Week 7) he had written his own theme song, come up with a way to “come on stage” and leave. He typically starts by showing us the local beverage he is consuming, casually chats about his circumstances, and plays song requests as they run on his feed at an alarming speed. Midway through the show he will provide a fantastic piano lesson “for kids.” It’s about how to make some cool sounds and songs easily and about playing with the piano, not the dry dull theory that can kill off natural passion.

Ben Folds manages to put this together on his own, but some performances, like acting, require on-stage collaboration. What do you do when you want to bring together multiple actors but can’t get together at a physical venue? Silicon Valley Shakespeare did the equivalent of ghost stories and an actor reading last Saturday night.

The narrator/older self, with his younger self, his brother and two supporting roles as portrayed by individual actors in Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s Ghost Stories May 23, 2020

The actors voice acted the parts of a story, coming on “stage” by being present in video and exiting the “stage” from a multi-location stream on Facebook. It was uneven in video quality, but innovative and interesting. I’d certainly watch the next iteration. Plus I got to see a show in California without leaving my house!

I am grateful to the performers for creating venues that we all can go to, and I realize that the performers also enjoy the faces (they currently can’t see) in the audience. They could put on a show without us, but it’s fun for everyone to be both watched and to be watching. I look forward to seeing them in the flesh someday, but the streamed performances are a new medium with its own charms.

Hippie Hiking Adventures in TN

As the Rutherford County sheriff tailed me through Murfreesboro, I finally came to the realization that by Tennessee standards, I am a godd**n hippie. By northern California standards, I was just a regular person, somewhat on the nerdy side. But there I also didn’t drive 50 miles during the COVID-19 pandemic to get two growlers of “smoke and fire” kombucha and some kimchi created by the fermentation faerie and sold in an all-organic health food store in an arts center in a little town (population 2,680) outside of Rutherfurd County jurisdiction.

I turned onto highway 24, the route out of Rutherford County and back to my home, and the sheriff let me go. I should have heeded the warning, but the next day, I decided going hiking would be a good idea.

All of undeveloped and uncultivated Middle Tennessee is forest. Therefore, virtually all hiking that is not on a former farm land is in the woods. And some of the best, though sparsely used paths near me are along the Natchez Trace, which was originally a Native American hunting trail, thus following rivers and ridges. On this particular day, I decided I would try the Garrison Creek section with my dog.

Within 1/4 mile in from the trailhead, the Old Trace trail was blocked by a downed tree:

This was one of many, many large trees that had toppled over in a recent thunderstorm. In California, after an event like this Cal-Fire and/or the rangers go out with chainsaws to groom the trail. In Tennessee, only hippies expect groomed trails! So we clambered (yes, clambered over), crawled under, and sometimes had to walk off into the forest to walk around the trees. I did not encounter any tree I couldn’t overcome by the time I got to the Garrison Creek portion.

This was narrower, but less obstructed. Until we got here:

Is that a bridge? No, that is not a bridge.

I must have taken a wrong turn, or lost the path, I thought. I walked up the creek side and down the creek side, but there were no bridges. We tried that rotten wood you see and practically fell through. If that was ever a bridge, it was long gone and washed away. I turned back on the path, sure I would find the turn I had lost. When I checked my GPS — I was going the wrong way. I had to turn back around and the most direct way out and back to the trailhead was to — cross that creek.

What happened next is best envisioned like the river scene in True Grit. This is why only the tough Tennesseans go hiking, and quite frankly, I’m not sure they expect all hikers to come out of the woods at the end.

girl and horse crossing river
Fording the creek with my very big dog

The trail had me crossing that creek 3 more times, although the passages were narrower and shallower. I was soaked, but I did stop by the Leipers Fork market to take a picture of the sherriff’s car parked there and to think about getting hot coffee from a coffee kiosk truck.

That evening, after I had dried off, Peter took me (sans dog) to Tennessee Brew Works, an iconic local brewery that had recently been allowed to re-open with safety precautions. We could only sit on the open air patio: one of our favorite places to sit on a pleasant day as it was. Our server had to wear a face mask, and our options were somewhat limited. But we were happy to be out and about in Nashville again, and greeted the only other couple there (seated about 10 feet away) as our fellow COVID-19 survivors.

I was so happy indeed to see other people I even talked to the lost and tired looking man who came up asking us for bus fare. I never talk to strangers like this, but the world was bare, and even the vagrants were sparse. He’d been released from prison, but the Rescue Mission he’d been directed to was full, so they’d advised him to go to the Salvation Army over by Nissan Stadium, across the river. We told him it was walkable, and he might certainly find water to buy along the way. The poor man was probably just as puzzled to find himself a former Memphian in Nashville, a city he didn’t know, and talking to a hippie when the world still looked post-apocalyptic in lack of people out and about. As he finally moved on, towards downtown and the route across the river, I hoped he would find his way to the Salvation Army and on to a better life.

Tornado Town

Peter and I were sitting down to breakfast together on Tuesday morning, and he looked at my phone and said “why are your friends and family all asking if you’re ok?”

Wondering what happened to me, I checked the news first, and found out that a category 3 tornado had whipped through Nashville around 1 a.m. Here, about 20 miles south in Franklin, our experience of the phenomenon consisted of hail and lightning — although our neighbors across the street paid more attention to the radio alarm and spent the night in their tornado shelter.

I was just exhausted that night, after a day of working on IT policy documentation, followed by 4 hours of education on arson. The education came from a recent Chicago survivor still fresh with wounds from regulatory abuse and tax horrors talking to three ex-Californians who could believe his stories, in a way the locals just quite can’t. It seems like every day another set of refugees from California, New Jersey, Illinois, or New York arrives, most swearing to become as one with the Tennesseans we are quickly outnumbering, but possibly too cynical and candid to really fit in.

And Peter had no phone of his own, because it had gotten lost in the leaves (and quite possibly crushed underfoot) during a rope rescue exercise guiding and sometimes hauling a litter up a steep wooded slope.

The tornado did hit and hurt places in Nashville that have a place in our lives. One of our favorite music venues for indie bands, the Basement East, partially collapsed. A meadery across the street where we’d planned to take Peter’s sister, Cathy, for her birthday only had minimal damage — which brings up that Cathy moved in with us for about 5 months last year after getting a job here until her Ohio house sold and she found her new home in nearby Brentwood.

A mile east of there, the tornado roared through the Five Points section of East Nashville, and fun and funky place we love, and the location of an annual Tomato Art Festival each August. I was relieved to hear that I Dream of Weenie, a hot dog stand to which we brought my hiking buddies Bob and Sharon when they visited in October, pretty much just had its sign and awning bent.

The cottage that houses the Fairytale Bookstore and Pied Piper Creamery with its shrine to Tom Selleck is still standing, to my relief.

Tom Selleck Shrine

All the businesses there, however, are out of power, and closed until they can clean up and fix the damage. Oh, and the airport that was damaged was not BNA, even though that is on the east side of Nashville, but rather a commuter airport (the kind our country stars use to travel in chartered planes) on the western side.

Thanks to alerts that blast to cell phones and sirens, few people were actually hurt. Late-staying staff at the Basement East were safe in the, er, literal basement of the venue. One of my barre regulars has a son who was living in an apartment from which the tornado tore off the roof, but no one was hurt, albeit he now needs a new place to live.

Far worse off are people in Putnam County, two hours east of here, where Scout and I have gone for the past two years for the 4H archery competition. This tornado repeatedly crossed the Cumberland River which runs through Nashville, picking up speed from each cold air updraft until it was ready to blast down interstate 40 through Lebanon and Mount Juliet toward Putnam County, which is a tornado magnet, situated as it is on a plateau. Today, a self-selected group of firefighter volunteers is out there searching the rubble for the 70+ people who went missing when their homes were destroyed.

Thank you for your calls, texts, and messages. I finally found the “mark yourself safe” feature on Facebook useful.

Thanks also for all those who came to Neil’s graduation party at Jake’s pizza last year, or who I got a chance to hang out with during our brief trip in June. It was a great pleasure to see you all again and enjoy the Bay Area though seeing it in 2019 it was as if we had been in a time capsule for 3 years while the kids grew up and we all moved on.

We’ve continued to travel throughout the East Coast. We went to Bronycon in Baltimore in August, and stayed with Peter’s parents. With Cathy here to watch out for Kelly, Peter and I had romantic weekend getaways to Miami in September and Las Vegas in November. And on a whim to see a favorite band of Peter’s, we spent a fun weekend in Minneapolis in February, which I’ve detailed in my blog.

Change is inevitable, but we have settled into some regularity in the kinds of things we like to do and the people we hang out with. I’ll just end this with both a dog and a pony story.

In April, we acquired a Bernese mountain dog, who is now so large my neighbor called him a “dorse” (dog horse.) Little did we know that his breed comes with its own set of fan clubs. As a result, as part of such a club which had its own float, I ended up pulling him past the eager hands of dog-loving children in the Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade, behind Kid Rock and Loretta Lynn, whom Peter mistook for “Kid Rock’s meemaw.” Which if you think about it, maybe she is in a kind of way.

It was impossible to get a picture of our dog, buried under children as he was, but here is one of him with us and ghosts the next day at the annual Dickens Fair:

The Bickfords and dog at the Dickens Fair in downtown Franklin, Tennessee.

And last month, we finally took our first horseback ride in Tennessee. At the ranches I liked in the Bay Area, I rode like a vaquero, one hand loose and babbling to distract the mustang who would always be saddled with me, lest said mustang have time to get his own opinion which likely disagreed with my own. Here, they still give you western saddles, but the expert riders took the reins in both hands, as if they were riding English style. And the quarterhorse I rode on argued with me not one bit, no matter which way I steered her. As I found out the ranch is a horse sanctuary, the guides are volunteers, and the price of the ride feeds and supports the hundreds of horses they have rescued from families that couldn’t afford to keep them or abuse.

Keep in touch, and follow my blog. And if you ever come out to Nashville (we will rebuild, as we have before in other disasters), let me know.

Minneapolis in 2 Days #8: Time to Go

After the show, we had dinner at a nice diner in Edina, and then decamped to the Whalen’s basement to sip some excellent scotch, drink wine, and listen to music.

We had an early flight so we left before dawn and still barely caught our flight. It was sad to end out vacation as it has been the best time I have ever had in Minneapolis.

And you know what? It wasn’t as cold as I feared.

Back in Nashville, I put on my shorts and enjoyed our impending Spring.

Minneapolis in 2 Days #7: Dudley Rigg’s Brave New Workshop

We only had another day in Minneapolis, and Mike and Peter put their heads together to find another only-in-Minneapolis experience for me. And so they chose Dudley Rigg’s Brave New Workshop, a sketch comedy company.

Now, if you’re been paying attention, comedians are under siege by the over-offended who will present anything out of context to whip up a mob of outrage. So all too often, it decays into “dick” jokes whether at the expense of penises or the lame put-downs of cultural villian du jour. When it doesn’t, the comedians lock down their venue. We saw Carrot Top in Las Vegas last year and he had at least six security guards roaming to make sure no one was taping. He zinged through jokes, some of which could have been taken as offensive: all it would take was one ass to show just that and his career could end.

The Brave New Workshop wasn’t scared. We saw a topical show that skewered everyone. We especially loved “Just Say It” with a Minnesotan who can’t say the exact words of phrases like “I love you,” but rather has an alternate like “Drive home safe now!” It could be done (slightly differently) in Nashville, too. There were jabs at impeachment and the space program, bad wigs, and knowing winks. Like good comedy, even the skits we didn’t like made us think. Comedians aren’t supposed to make us comfortable, but they are supposed to make us laugh.

It was amazing to see comedians being free to fill their role. And if you are offended, take it up with Dudley Riggs.

Minneapolis in 2 Days: Edina and Surly Brewing

Peter has a childhood friend whom we always see in (and is a reason for going to) the Minneapolis area. He and his wife are life long locals who moved to Edina, Minnesota right around the time they had children. We saw them at their wedding; during our trip across country; and now, each time about a decade apart. Our children have gone from non-existent to young to now where they can be briefly left on their own. And of course, as soon as we had booked tickets to Minneapolis, we asked them if we could come over and stay.

For those who are not from the Minneapolis area, and who are old enough to remember SAT analogies:

Edina:Minneapolis::Cupertino:San Jose::Franklin:Nashville

Or more inexactly, it’s a nice place to live with good schools, no crime, nice parks and it has managed to not become douchy, though it is made fun of by the people who wish they could live there.

We caught up on our lives and admired what they and their children have done and accomplished in the, uh, almost 12 years since we saw them last.

I would have complained about the cold, but it was a downright balmy 20 degrees and I’d already survived one night. I told Mike and Kim I wanted to see what Minneapolis has that I won’t see anywhere else.

Minneapolis has a number of great micro-breweries (and at least one major brewery as well.) But after some discussion, Mike decided the one to see was Surly Brewing. This was the same place that created teh First Avenue beer Peter had had at the club the night before.

It is a huge brewing company and it was packed with people even in mid afternoon. Nonetheless, getting a beer to try wasn’t hard. There was a white wine beer which is exactly what it says it is. It is beer, but it tastes like a sparkling white wine. But it’s beer…. Peter and Mike had a dark beer so thick and sweet it tasted like molasses. Kim had a different dark beer which is what they each had later. They also had sour beer, a style that goes in and out of fashion and a range of both standard and exploratory beers.

Though we didn’t plan on dinner until later, appetizers sound like a good idea. But then we couldn’t decide on just one, because they were so interesting and intriguing. We had a charcuterie plate with duck pastrami. We had perfectly grilled brussels sprouts, though Mike said they were even better when bacon wrapped. We had to have pierogi. And when we saw Nashville hot chicken and the server promised us it would be truly Nashville quality hot, we said bring it on.

The chef impressed us on every dish, except for the Nashville hot chicken. But then we have yet to have anything that is really Nashville hot chicken outside of Nashville regional. (Especial stink eye to KFC and TGIF.) I would like to create a public service announcement for all y’all: adding cayenne, or even cayenne, to your spice mix does not mean it is Nashville hot. And that chicken better be a perfect, juicy on the inside and crisp on the outside and no mistakes. Nashville hot chicken is an art form, that requires the artistry of an expert chef and the sadism to be willing to make your diners suffer. Imbibing in hot hot chicken is a masochistic “hurts so good” experience, and honestly, most local Nashvillians order their hot chicken “not hot.” Perhaps I should not order hot chicken from any place that does not make you pay for it in advance. And perhaps Surly could offer an upscale Juicy Lucy instead…..

For those who want more pedestrian food, Surly had a pizza bar upstairs. We had gotten a table and Surly was a hip enough place to have production assistants running around looking for young hot singles willing to audition for CBS’ Love Island. One assistant playfully framed us:

There weren’t plans to cast in Nashville, and we’re not their demographic anyway, but we will watch the show to see the Minneapolitans who do make it to the island.

Our show tickets were for 5 pm, so we had to go. Cleverly our server had a system that allowed us to check out at the table. Next up, we were going to see comedy the way it should be.

Minneapolis in 2 Days #5: The Electric Fetus and Other Unique Minneapolis Treasures

We had seen the concert we’d come for, but we had another day to spend in Minneapolis, and I wanted to see and experience what Minneapolis had that I would not find anywhere else. It was already clear that it’s a cultural nexus for the upper Midwest.

So for breakfast, we went out to Caribou Coffee, an near-omnipresent local chain. (There were at least 4 in the Mall of America.) We had some delicious coffee drinks. I told the baristas I only had a day left in Minneapolis, and asked if there is only one place I could eat that would represent Minneapolis, what would it be? Brits Pub, where we’d gone the night before, was one vote, but overwhelmingly the other was Matt’s Bar, followed by if you can’t get in, the name of another number of dive bar named places like Ray Jay’s and Blue Door Pints.

I discovered what they were pointing me to was a local specialty and the kinds of places that serve such food. For Minneapolis is the birthplace and home of an inside-out cheeseburger called a “Juicy Lucy.”

We’d had breakfast, and plans to spend the rest of the day with some local friends who’d be available later, so we headed over to a music store called The Electric Fetus.

While everyplace has a music store, there are few music stores so amazing as to be regional icons, with knowledgeable opinionated staff, both new and used music, a focus on regional bands, and gifts and goodies reflective of and aimed at the local subcultures. These places usually max out our credit cards. Amoeba Music in Berkeley is one; Waterloo Records in Austin is another. And Minneapolis has its own.

Electric Fetus
Tromp l’oeil paintings of Prince and Dylan at the Electric Fetus

From the quirky insouciant window display (go ahead, sit in the window….) and a variety of Prince t-shirts, this place was indelibly Minneapolis.

And as such, I needed some translation, as the genres they had didn’t map to mine. In the Bay Area, there’s a rock section, but subdivided — classic rock, soft rock, hard rock, modern rock, surfer rock, and if you are there, people know of what you speak. In Nashville, there is rock and folk and country but the musicians here are a bunch of music whores so it gets mixed up into what we call Americana, which then itself spits out into new forms of those aforementioned genres. That’s what I hear on my favorite local station and what I hear at our local music festivals and clubs.

So when I went to look for Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real, whose latest album got me through the second half of 2019, I didn’t know where to look. They are not rock, not folk, and not on our country radio stations. This band might get booked to the Ryman, but not the Grand Old Opry.

Electric Fetus had his music in stock, but to my surprise (but not too much of one), had him under country. A Minneapolitan may be similarly amused being asked to look for Prince in the R&B section, when depending on the album or even the song, it’s jazz, gospel, rock, soul, funk and a mismash of some or all of the above. Prince has his own section at Electric Fetus, by the way.

A little later, a manager approached me with an album from Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real signed by members of the band. Would I like that? Oh, YES. (It is now framed and hanging on my wall.)

In the meantime, Peter found all sorts of albums and releases we didn’t even know existed. Our daughter got a Taco Money purse and our son a solar corgi. I now have socks announcing “I heard you….and I don’t care.” And very Minnesotan band-aids:

At the point that we’d collected enough stuff to fill both the suitcases we had brought, we checked out and fled to Edina before another awesome item called out to be bought.

Minneapolis in 2 Days #4: The Suburbs and the Upper Mississippi Punks

Nashville audiences have made me soft. No matter the artist, no matter the venue, no matter how many hundreds of thousands of people there are in the audience, they don’t crush or shove one another, except by accident. As the crowd gets bigger and the show more exciting, there is simply a folding forward, and if you don’t like it, you can let it wash past you because the acoustics are probably better where you’re at anyway. You can definitely tell the out of towners at Nashville shows, and everyone knows who they are, bless their hearts.

San Francisco Bay Area shows could get much rougher, and I had perfected pointed elbows and a broad stance to keep a spot because the only row is the front row. And a donkey kick to get the people trying to crawl up my back off it.

I didn’t quite know what to expect in Minneapolis, though I could already tell y’all that their definition of “nice” is not the same as it would be in a Nashville dictionary. After checking out the merch table, we had arrived early enough to get a comfortable spot near the front. How many people were really going to go out in a wintry night in Minneapolis to see an aging band with only a local following? Answer: the club’s full capacity worth, all of whom know they are The Suburbs’ #1 most die-hard fans. And from years of getting on and off busses filled with people wearing parkas that make them 3 times their actual size, they have perfected the art of finding spaces to move in between and to where there is none.

Peter warned me to move closer and we were but inches from the fans directly in front of us, but we could blink and POOF a small army of people would slide in. This happened several times and short of giving frottage to the large scary punk in front of me, this Nashvillian did not know what to do. And I still did have to apologize to him once for an awkward moment of physical intimacy when I got shoved into him. He said it was ok, he was used to that happening at concerts.

On the other hand, First Avenue has several excellent methods of crowd pacification. One was lowering a screen in front of the stage when there was no performance and playing music videos from the 1980s. Another one was bar service on the floor with a bar maid that had also perfected the art of squeezing in. I was pretty much beered up for the day, given that waiting took place in bars, but Peter could not resist having a First Avenue branded beer when he saw that existed:

It turns out this show had an opening band, Miloe, which struck me as a near-suicidal mission for a crowd like this. At least they were local and smart enough to sneak in a group of their own die-hard fans. They put on a good show, and kept it short, and survived. Plus it was their first show at First Avenue, and there was that to cheer for. And that if their show had been bad, that it would have been their last.

By the time they left, the crowd was roiling. They had thawed out, they had come from nearby and from far-off locales like Rochester, Chicago, and Duluth. They spoke of “Beej” and “Chan” as of dear friends, and speculated which songs the band would play. Their logo appeared on the screen atop a music videos and the crowd howled. And the logo stayed and the screen didn’t go up, and the crowd got louder.

And then the show began, with “Love is the Law,” one of their most iconic songs. They rocked they rolled. It was the first time in a very long time I’ve seen members of the band drinking anything except water, which probably added to the appropriate level of chaos. A unexpected stylish dancer came out for “Rattle My Bones” and proceeded to rattle everyone’s bones. The encore (for there must always be an encore) started with a beautiful version of “Life is Like” after which some members of the Suicide Commandoes (another local punk rock band) stepped in for two songs. And it ended with “I Like Cows.”

Then the crowd unfolded into separate packs. Peter went back to the merch table. Given the size of the crowd, it seemed likely that even a one-mile rideshare would be pricey, so we walked back. I noticed that unlike it other towns, there were no announcements of the local temperature. But by this point, as long as we kept moving, I knew we would live. Plus poking a glove into the very fluffy snow is fun — because it’s so fluffy! California Sierra and Nashville snow is sticky.

I tried to get into the Skyway, but it was closed. There was a hot shower in our hotel, and had I been more frozen, there was a sauna.

Minneapolis in 2 Days #3: Downtown to First Avenue

Peter booked a hotel within walking distance of First Avenue, so we could easily get there by foot, rideshare, or Skyway. We stayed at the Millennium Hotel which had the regular suite of amenities you can expect at a top hotel. As we found out, it also had a sauna.

As we were going to our room, we talked to two other hotel guests and asked where they had come in from and what brought them to Minneapolis on Valentine’s Day. I suspect my look of fear at the prospect of going outside and my odd collection of warming layers made us rather curious, too. They were from another Minnesotan town about 100 miles west and had come for a pheasant and quail hunters’ convention taking place at the convention center across from the hotel.

“You think this is cold?” he laughed with amusement, and proceeded to describe being out on a snowmobile in 50 below windchill.

We relaxed and crashed out for a few hours until we decided to have some dinner. Just a block away was Brits Pub, which looked interesting.

“Ask us about outdoor seating!” a sign in the window announced, and Peter cheekily did, much to the hostess’ horror. She told us we could try out the Clubhouse upstairs, which had a fireplace and a view of Minneapolis, and was reached by stairs hinting a storied past for the building.

Peter and I enjoyed some pints and dinner. I asked our server who now knew that we came from Nashville if we would be able to walk to First Avenue or if we should call a rideshare. I was bundled up, but I didn’t want to die. Peter assured me that the alcohol would have a anti-freeze effect, and the fat in the cheese sandwich I’d just had would provide an extra layer of warmth. And so out in the cold we went.

First Avenue is a legendary site, and most people know it as the place where Prince and The Time played in Purple Rain. Peter saw multiple acts there, and the names of the acts in the stars that covered the outside walls included many of our favorite bands from the 1980s and on.

The club however didn’t open until 8 pm, and we’d gone especially early to pick up our tickets. In Nashville, fans hold up the wall until doors open. That was not a reasonable option, so we went to a nearby pub.

By the time we finished a pint, the doors were open and there was a line of old punks our age filtering in and grumpily showing ID that proved that yes, said 50 year old is over 21. A great number of them were wearing the iconic Suburbs t-shirt like the one Peter has, and it was warm enough to take off the top layer of warmth. We staked ourselves a spot near the front of the stage, a position we’d have to defend.

I was soon to experience my first concert in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis in 2 Days #2: The Mall of America

The Mall of America near the Minneapolis airport was big news the first time I visited Minneapolis in 1999, but now everyone is used to the fact that the Biggest Mall in the United States exists.

How big is it? Well, it’s so big it has an amusement park in the middle — as well as several other amusement-type parks like an aquarium, a Crayola park, and a Legoland, and coming in is an M&M Experience just like the one of the Las Vegas Strip. It has 530 stores, although the flagship Sears store is now closed.

I was seriously worried that it had gone downhill in the 20+ years since I’d last seen it. It was amazing then, and dead malls are scary and sad. It didn’t help that on the way in, the lazy buskers turned out to be indoor bums — because outdoor bums are dead.

But then the rest of it came into glorious, gleaming view. Compared its previous incarnation on my first visit, like most things these days, it was more modern, brighter, and better. The amusement park seemed considerably bigger; all I remembered from the past was a ferris wheel. Now it has a flume! And a Flyover America ride. And true beach boardwalk style thrill rides like this:

We were just there for coffee and brunch, but we ended up marvelling at a store that sells board games….nothing but board games. The top floor, which used to have a discount book store, was now a movie theatre. And the middle was open to the sky, allowing the construction of a 4-story high Lego masterpiece (as well as several others.)

I was sorely tempted to eat at the “Minneawaffolis,” but ended up at Cowboy Jack’s instead. On the way there, we were entranced by a Crayola store so big it has its own “experience” (melt your crayons to make sculptures, take selfies, create a video) and art made of crayons:

Details of Crayon Art
Yes, it’s made of crayons

Just as it had been, it was a place with so much you could live there and never go out. And indeed, it now has a hotel, so you can do just that until you’re really and truly shopped out.

By the time we had a Valentine’s Day piece of cheesecake, the early morning was catching up to me, and we decided to head to our hotel downtown.


Minneapolis in 2 Days #1: How Did I Get There?


Minneapolis in 2 Days #3: Downtown