Over the Rhine Celebrates 25th Anniversary at Washington Park

Over the Rhine, the band, played a free show last night in Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood, in honor of their 25th anniversary as a band. Despite the oppressive heat, Over the Rhine kept things low-key and cool while promoting songs from their latest album Meet Me at the Edge of the World. The show was held in Washington Park across from Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall.

Over the Rhine performs at Washington Park across from Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine
Washington Park and Music Hall serve as the backdrop to Over the Rhine

Besides getting to enjoy great, new music for free, I was impressed with what Cincinnati has done to make Washington Park a beautiful venue for outdoor shows. While there’s no official “seating” outside a few tables and chairs, you can bring lawn chairs or blankets or just take advantage of make-shift seating such as decorative walls or steps winding throughout the park. Excellent concessions were also available at this particular event, including food from Washington Platform and Taste of Belgium, a local Over-the-Rhine restaurant. The park concessions featured a nice variety of craft beers as well – though this attendee was sad to find Moerlein’s OTR Ale was not available. You give us Over the Rhine in Over-the-Rhine, but we can’t partake in some OTR? Would’ve been the perfect trifecta if you ask me.

Quibbles aside, the entire experience was excellent and people really seemed to enjoy themselves. Kids – and even some adults – stayed cool by wading through the beautiful Washington Park fountains. Linford Detweiler (half of the Over the Rhine songwriter duo) even offered up dry shirts for the fountain frolickers at what he called “the 1989 price of $15.”

Over the Rhine was slated to play from 6 PM to 8 PM, but they went on late and left early, so they only ended up playing for an hour or so. But they made that hour count. Over the Rhine’s subtle nuances, intricate harmonies and excellent musicianship shined bright and kept the audience rapt – while leaving us all wanting more. Many of the songs came from their new album and I was particularly struck by a couple of them.

“All Over Ohio” was presented as a love song – in more of a “one love” tradition than the more syrup-y love ballad kind of song. It made me appreciate how the band has stayed true to their Ohio roots. Plus it’s pretty darn catchy.

“Favorite Time of Light” is just a gorgeous tune that expresses, musically, the emotions we often feel when we experience the beauty of nature. In this case, a sunset spreading across fields of wheat as it gives warmth to everything it touches.

Because I’m not native to Cincinnati, I may be less likely to take a scene like this for granted. But given the history of Washington Park and Over-the-Rhine in general, perhaps it’s time for locals to revisit this renovated gem. Sure, Over the Rhine won’t play the venue every Sunday, but regardless of the band, Cincinnati has provided a great performance venue – scenic, sonic and safe – inside Washington Park.

View of downtown Cincinnati from Washington Park
Great view of downtown from Washington Park

If you’re interested in checking out Washington Park for yourself, let me recommend the Cincinnati Celtic Festival being held the weekend of September 5-7.

Let’s just hope they have Guinness.

—Ryan Varney

Routines

It’s funny how in memories the mind makes correlations between events that really aren’t related, at least in space and time. But I think our brain, in hindsight, understands life beyond the tangible. It ties together moments by fusing feelings and emotions, though the events they are attached to appear incongruous.

***

For years, as a child, I begged my parents for a dog though deep down I knew it was a lost cause. I’d broach the subject every so often on the off chance they’d cave. Alas, the answer was always no, the idea brushed aside like crumbs from a table.

Then one Christmas, I was told there was a final gift to open but I didn’t see any presents left under the tree. Up from the basement my dad bounded with a box in his arms. Oddly, the lid and box were wrapped separately – and that’s when it clicked. I pulled off the lid and out popped a puppy. Bouncing around with its tongue and tail wagging, it looked like a wind-up toy. I couldn’t help myself from exclaiming, “Is it real?!?”

BarneyJake

(L) Our first dog Barney; (R) Our second dog Jake

A few years later, my dad bought a truck. This was a man who’d owned a succession of Hondas because he believed in the value of miles per gallon. Sure, the truck was manual transmission and foreign-made (a Nissan), but it would never get the gas mileage an Accord or Civic would. So even with my limited financial acumen, I was quite surprised.

From the first moment I saw that truck, I knew I wanted to drive it more than anything in the world. Steel gray, over-sized tires; it was a thing of beauty in my sixteen year-old mind. It was also a vehicle much too expensive to let a newbie driver get behind its wheel.

Nevertheless, I still got jealous watching him pull out of the drive on his way to work wishing it was me instead. He worked at Toledo Hospital as a pharmacist (still does) and that commute was the primary purpose for using the truck. I can still picture the route now, twenty years later, timing the lights just right, the twists and turns as familiar to me as childhood.

I’m sure he’s quite sick of that route these days considering he’s been taking it for thirty years (has it been that long?!). But I will always feel envious of that drive because day in and day out, he made it with that truck and I so desperately wanted to take the reins.

But then came prom, senior year, and there was my dad handing over the keys. While I’m sure my date didn’t appreciate having to hike up her dress in an attempt to climb into the cab, I was in seventh heaven driving the twenty miles to pick her up and take us to the dance. Gradually, he let me drive it more often, until I eventually went off to college.

I majored in Communications because my dad wouldn’t help out with tuition if I followed in his footsteps as a pharmacist – the position wasn’t in high demand then as it is now. I got a job out of college working for a radio broadcaster in Chicago. Roads are narrow there, parking spots tight, so there was no need for a truck. While I spent a decade in the Windy City driving mid-sized sedans, it was always in the back of my mind to own a truck like Dad’s.

It was during my life in Chicago that my dad got rid of the old, gray Nissan. But he replaced it with a newer, maroon version – an automatic transmission (gasp!). Also during that time my surprise Shih Tzu puppy also went into the clearing at the end of the path. But his going, too, was supplanted with a newer version. I met them both on various visits home and it reminded me that while things change, they also stay the same.

Maroon Nissan FrontierGray Nissan Frontier

(L) Maroon Nissan Frontier passed down to me; (R) Dad’s third Frontier

Perhaps that thought is a key driver in how I approached my life. My parents were stable, reliable and consistent in word and deed. The Nissan Frontier changed color and year and the Shih Tzu went from Barney to Jake, but by and large things looked the same. I, on the other hand, was always moving in and out of relationships, looking for the next great thing and doing my best to fly my wax wings too close to the sun.

Eventually the fun ran its course in Chicago; it’s a young man’s metropolis. It was time to settle down and grow up a little. I moved with my wife to Cincinnati, a nice small town as my old boss Paul Harvey would’ve put it. We bought a house in the near suburbs (only two and a half miles from downtown across the river lest you think I gave up on fun completely) and started life as mostly responsible adults – like our folks – except with two cats instead of a dog.

One day, my dad says he’s interested in a truck down by where I live and asked if I’d come check it out with him. I obliged and we went to look at a practically new steel gray Nissan Frontier. It was even more beautiful than the one that stirred my teenage adrenaline. He bought it and, to my surprise, gave me his old maroon one. I finally had a truck! Only took me thirty-five years.

Around that time I also got a new job working for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. No – I didn’t go back to pharmacy school. I manage the hospital intranet on the research side of things, but still, I’m working at a hospital. Like my dad. And commuting streets in a truck. His old one.

There are mornings I walk outside, open the pickup cab, turn the ignition and make my way to the hospital and I think to myself after all these years I’m doing the exact same thing Dad does. Actually, this happens Every. Single. Morning. When I get to my hospital I sometimes don’t want to cut the engine and remove the key lest the connection between my dad and me is severed. It’s a ridiculous thought, I know, how can a stupid truck affect a relationship?

That’s where hindsight becomes 20/20 and the link between father and son, truck and dog start to become clear.

Looking back, I see that my dad has always been steady and consistent – replacing the old with newer versions only when he has to because he appreciates what he had or has in those things. And yet, he swore we’d never have a dog and that it wouldn’t be prudent to own a gas guzzling truck, the things he has maintained consistently for over twenty-five years now. But to get there, he broke from his ideals – and surprised a very malleable young boy in doing so.

It is the nature of all children to rebel against their parents to one degree or another. I am certainly no exception. I spent my life trying to do all things I felt my parents never did.

But getting up every morning and performing the same routine as my dad, I have a new perspective on things. I’m filled with pride to know that in some small way I’m following in his footsteps.

I’ve come to see that the responsibility and steadfast routine he’s demonstrated ever since I can remember – the thing I’ve probably rebelled against the most – is something I should run to, not from. Because being responsible and consist doesn’t mean being boring and predictable.

My dad broke his credo of no pets and got a dog. He set aside his cost-consciousness and got a truck. He found surprise and change inside his routine. Turns out, father may know best after all.

Eventually he’ll retire, his truck will die, I’ll get a new job and my truck will die. But I know the connection between father and son won’t be broken because some shared routines were. No – these days I’ve realized the connection comes from knowing I’m becoming the man he already is.

And, just maybe, for him, knowing this will be a surprise as pleasant as getting a puppy for Christmas.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


From L to R: Ryan, Dad, Jenn at the Cell in Chicago

—Ryan Varney

Review of the Twentieth Century Way at the Know Theater in Cincinnati

The Know Theatre in Cincinnati presents the Twentieth Century WayI was invited to a production of “The Twentieth-Century Way” at the Know Theatre of Cincinnati this past weekend. Starring Jens Rasmussen and Michael McKeogh, this two-man play is a whirlwind of activity designed to answer the question, “Who am I, really?”

In order to answer the question, the playwright, Tom Jacobson, has his characters don masks (in the form of improvisational role-playing as part of a movie audition) to reveal their true selves. While not a novel concept, Jacobson uses it effectively and the actors displayed his vision veraciously.

You can read reviews of the script to get the full story elsewhere. Here’s what you really need to know.

It’s worth the admission price ($15 in advance; $20 day of show).

Rasmussen and McKeogh are tremendous. Though it’s only a two-man show, each actor performs as five or six different characters. These characters appear as part of different scenes, and the seamless transitions made by Rasmussen and McKeogh immediately place the audience in the scene. Watching them go from character to character is as impressive as Jacobson’s script.

It’s funny. There is a nice blend of physical comedy, laugh-out-loud moments, and subtle quips – all which help swallow the heaviness at the heart of the play.

It’s at times graphic, but don’t let the homosexual nature of the play distract you from its heart. If you are put off by man-on-man action (as I am), some moments are tough to watch. But this play is not really commentary on homosexuality – it’s merely the vehicle Jacobson uses to make his point.

And finally a word of caution (and possible spoiler alert):
MEN GET NAKED AND TOUCH. After watching the play my mind went to the scene in Role Models where Kuzzik says, “Now let us gingerly touch our tips.”

Because. That. Happened.

They might have kissed, too, but my eyes were averted by that point (plus the technical director was kind enough to dim the lights quite severely).

Now that you know the pros and cons, go see it. The Know Theatre warrants support for bringing in two wonderfully talented actors.

—Ryan Varney

Proposed NFL Ban On N-Word

proposed NFL ban on n-wordThe NFL has plans to crack down on players using N-bombs. The big debate is whether or not they can successfully implement and enforce such an idea. A secondary debate then ensued over whether this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to the Washington Redskins (R-word) franchise.

What troubles me is that this even needs to be addressed. Why is the N-word still being used?

Obviously I hear it being dropped in rap songs – though of the “-a” or “-ah” variety as opposed to the original “-er” version – (“-a” or “-ah” being considered okay), and occasionally from the mouths of white, self-proclaimed “old-school” types (decidedly not okay). The former usage is apparently a term of endearment while the latter screams “Racist.”

It all depends on who uses it and how. Context, they say, is everything.

So here we have a word that those advocating human rights and racial equality worked hard to eradicate from the English vocabulary. The N-word stood as a representation of all backward and racist thinking and its elimination from use is a way to show progress in our thinking about racial equality.

Maybe that’s why such in-house usage of the N-word feels like two steps forward, one step back. Isn’t it going against what past elders have championed? Why resurrect something so hateful?

Is it really an attempt to change the connotation of the word? Or is it merely an attempt to rub it in the face of those on the outside? We can use it, but you can’t. I hope it’s not the latter because that really feels like driving a stake through the heart of progress through self-segregation.

Based on this line of thinking, let’s take a look at another cringe-worthy word: faggot (at least it makes me feel as uncomfortable as the N-word).

Straight white rapper Eminem slings this epithet in several of his songs and he has been labeled a homophobe because of it. Why? Because the term has a negative connotation and denigrates an entire group of people.

Now I don’t follow a lot of gay culture, but I am friends with a fair number of gay people. I can say that I’ve never heard any of them refer to another using this term. However, by N-word logic, it would be fine if they did.

But would it further the progress of our acceptance of gays and gay rights? Unlikely.

Now, about the R-word.

If the connotation of the term “redskins” is as negative and ugly as the N-word or faggot, then the Washington NFL franchise needs to change its name. In fact, I would argue that the use of redskins is even more egregious than the use of the N-word.

I don’t know anyone, including Native Americans, who drop R-bombs. Other than to reference the Washington football franchise or potatoes, this term has long since disappeared from our lexicon. There are no attempts to bring it back into vogue or to use it as a racial slur. Let’s move on.

Besides, the Washington Redskins could stand a makeover. That franchise provides the only negative connotation to the R-word these days.

I think it was comedian Chris Rock who observed that having a team called the Washington Redskins was like having a team called the New York N-words. Obviously, that would never happen.

And yet, use of the N-word persists: who can use it, who can’t use it, and if you do use it in the NFL, will it draw a 15 yard penalty? (What’s the equivalent of a 15 yard penalty in life, BTW?)

In the end, those who still insist on using the N-word bring to mind a group of mentally-disabled people sitting around calling each other retards.

Endearing, isn’t it?

—Ryan Varney

Christmas Gifts for Patriots Fans

Christmas gifts for Patriots fans

Need a last minute Christmas gift for the Patriots fan in your life? Why not spread the cheer this holiday season with the smash CD “A Very Tom Brady Christmas”! Your Pats fan will love the merry tunes and joyful lyrics, celebrating our boys in red, white and blue. Check out some song and lyric samples below –

Here Comes Belichick

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
Brady and Ridley and Gronkowski
are making all the plays.
Gillette is ringing, fans are singing;
All is merry and bright.
Don your jerseys and say your prayers,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
He’s got a book that is filled with plays
to beat those Jets again.
Hear those Brady passes sizzling by,
What a beautiful sight.
Stand and cheer, guzzle down that beer,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Playoff Time is Here

Playoff time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that Pat fans
call their favorite time of year.

Snowflakes in the air,
drunkards everywhere,
Brady finds an open man
with seconds left to spare.

The kick is in the air;
Gostkowski knows it’s fair;
Confetti falls, we’ve won it all
with such dramatic flair.

Playoff time is here;
the Superbowl is near;
oh that we could always see
us win it every year,
us win it every year.

O Little Town of Foxborough

O little town of Foxborough,
Gillette’s lights shining bright;
Above the D, past cornerbacks
The TD pass sails by;
Then in the end zone shineth
Gronkowski’s famous spike.
The hopes and dreams of all Pats fans
Come true for us tonight.

Brady Baby

Brady baby, give the handoff to Vereen,
been an awful good back,
Brady baby, so hand it off for six tonight.

Brady baby, Amendola wants in, Ridley and Gronk, too.
So spread out the cheer,
Brady baby, and let it all fly tonight.

The Christmas Song

Opponents roasting on an open fire
Brady nipping at your D
Forty yard bombs being slung by our hero
All the fans wearing ol’ number twelve.
Everybody knows a touchdown
with an extra point
Help to make the season bright
Pat fans with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Ninky’s on his way
He’s coming with such speed
and power on his sack sleigh
And every quarterback is gonna drop
As five-o comes ‘round the edge
And makes another stop.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To Pat fans, one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

Enjoy other holiday Patriot favorites too –

Joy to Gillette
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Another Ring
I Saw Mommy Kissing Brady Claus
Ridley the Rock Hands Fumbler
Buffalo Got Run Over by the Patriots
Chandler the Sackman

—Ryan Varney

This CD is not actually available for purchase.

Patrick the ‘Sexist’ Gorilla Equals Bad Media

Currently trending on Yahoo! is the story of an anti-social gorilla named Patrick. The headlines scream “Sexist Gorilla” and the stories explain how Patrick is to receive behavior therapy for his poor attitude. While it’s clear he has anti-social/behavioral issues, it’s a bit over the top to label him sexist.

Patrick the sexist gorilla
Patrick the gorilla

Yes, he bit a female and was “aggressive” toward others, but he was also cold toward virtually every other gorilla he came in contact with, male and female. Apparently, the only gorilla he engaged with was Jabari, a gorilla shot to death for injuring three people after escaping the Dallas Zoo. Talk about behavioral issues.

Further, the Dallas Zoo recently acquired two males for which they have no space – unless they move Patrick elsewhere as they fear his behavior toward them.

Interestingly, Dallas Zoo officials praise Patrick for his relationships to humans stating he gets along with people better than other gorillas. He’s a proven fan favorite among zoo patrons.

The problem isn’t that Patrick is sexist – it’s that he’s specieist.

No, I did not make that up. British psychologist Richard D. Ryder coined the term in the ‘70s, arguing that specieism occurs when humans make negative moral distinctions between themselves and animals.

In Patrick’s case, he appears to be making negative moral distinctions against his own species. I don’t know if that makes him a reverse specieist, but it certainly does not make him sexist.

But the media, being the media, needed to sensationalize the headlines in order to get people to read the stories. “Specieist Gorilla to Receive Therapy” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Sexist Gorilla.”

It’s a trivial rant, I know, but I’m nothing if not a media-ist (yeah, I coined that), and it compels me to point out the ridiculousness of such tactics.

It’s just plain specieist.

—Ryan Varney

Las Vegas – Know When to Fold ‘Em

It took me 36 years to get to Las Vegas. It took me 36 seconds to lose $1,000.

Just kidding. I went up $40 in Blackjack and immediately cashed out (so I’m a little conservative!). At least the winnings went toward some great food, something I appreciate much more than table games and slots.

Best Eats Not on the Strip

Beef on Weck at Naked City Pizza ShopBuffalo wings at Naked City Pizza Shop
(L) Beef on weck; (R) Authentic Buffalo wings from Naked City Pizza Shop

I went to Vegas with some friends who originally hail from Buffalo, NY. Amazingly, they managed to find a restaurant in Las Vegas that was founded by fellow Buffalonians. The Naked City Pizza Shop, a few miles off the Strip, was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and is well worth the cab fare to get there. Featuring authentic Buffalo wings and beef on weck, Naked City Pizza Shop does Buffalo proud. I ordered a beef on weck half sandwich thinking I’d get some wings and pizza, too, but the half sandwich made a Subway footlong look like a mini-sub. Don’t worry, I still managed to cram in some wings and a few slices of pizza.

The wings were truly Buffalo. I was advised by my Buffalonian companions that real Buffalo wings are fried in peanut oil, which is what gives them such great flavor. Well, that’s exactly how Naked City Pizza Shop makes their wings, in peanut oil. Savory with a slight kick, the medium wings definitely hit the spot.

Naked City Pizza Shop Buffalo Bills Decor
Bills Decor at Naked City Pizza

As a New England fan (Pats and Bruins) I was a little concerned I might not be completely welcomed, but I was relieved to find several other Bruins fans vociferously cheering on the B’s as they swept the Penguins. And it was fun to see all the Bills and Sabres décor.

Another great find was the Peppermill at the very north end of the Strip (so far north, I don’t even count it as being on the Strip). The Peppermill is basically a classy diner – so classy that the food waitresses can’t even take your beverage order. Instead, they call over an actual cocktail waitress in a little black dress to bring your drinks. Peppermill was so good, I ate there twice. Country-fried steak and eggs, thick sourdough toast and the world’s greatest hash browns (no joke, they were AMAZING) and then the Maserati omelet – it does 185 (like this post if you get that reference) – stuffed with Italian sausage, mozzarella, mushrooms and pizza sauce, were the two meals I indulged in.

Best Place Not on the Strip

If you ever get out to Vegas and you don’t make the effort to get to Hoover Dam, for shame. Of all the man-made monstrosities in and around Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is by far the most amazing. And recently Arizona and Nevada added to the wonder by completing the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which soars majestically above the Colorado River.

I practically got vertigo looking over the edge of the Hoover Dam, and it blows my mind to think of all the workers pouring concrete over 700 feet above the river. What an amazing feat of human engineering! But standing on top of Hoover Dam, it’s breathtaking to see the ridges and canyons containing the Colorado River and Lake Mead. On a clear, sunny day with a gentle breeze, there was no place I’d have rather been.

Hoover Dam Gallery

Hoover Dam name plateHoover Dam back side view
(L) Hoover Dam name plate; (R) The back side view from Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam towersA calm Colorado River
(L) Hoover Dam towers; (R) A low Colorado River – notice the “bathtub” ring
Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial BridgeThe author standing on top of Hoover Dam in Arizona and Nevada
(L) The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge; (R) Me standing in both Arizona and Nevada
Front of the Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam front view (that’s a lotta concrete)

The Strip

While I enjoyed my time away from the Strip, I was still very impressed by it. The hotels are classy, mostly (get it together Circus Circus), with extravagant lobbies full of glass flowers, indoor rivers and even a conservatory. And the exteriors are gorgeous and well-maintained with pools and fountains and of course plenty of lights. I really enjoyed the fountain show at the Bellagio and the pirate ship show outside of Treasure Island.

Scenes from Las Vegas

Fountains at the BellagioFountains at Caesar's Palace
(L) Fountains at the Bellagio; (R) Fountains at Caesar’s Palace
Glass flowers on the Bellagio lobby ceilingInside the Wynn hotel
(L) Glass flowers on the ceiling of the Bellagio lobby; (R) Jenn and I inside the Wynn hotel (nice shoes!)
Volcano erupting outside the Mirage
Volcano ‘erupting’ outside the Mirage

Best Line Regarding Vegas

Before leaving for Las Vegas, I happened to visit with my grandpa. I was telling him about my upcoming trip to ‘Sin City’ and he got this funny little smile on his face. I asked him if he’d ever been there before and he said he had. So what did you think, I asked. His reply?

“I think it’s a great place…to stay away from.”

—Ryan Varney