A cool assignment

When I was six, my family moved from über-urban New Jersey (shout out to Jersey City!) to super-rural Arkansas (shout out to… the cows that lived next door?). Our new abode was in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, so it got chilly, but we rarely experienced snow or ice. (I remember one year when we got nearly a foot of snow overnight and my grade school was closed for two weeks straight!)

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Cold-weather sports such as hockey weren’t really on my radar. Sure, I might read the occasional article about it in Sports Illustrated, but I’d never seen a live game and really knew very little about it. In college, I got a work-study job in intramurals, and had to be a linesman for broomball, the poor man’s hockey. It took me a long time to understand the “icing” penalty call.

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I’ve been to a handful of hockey games since then, but don’t really follow the sport. When my old friend John Fox — who is now the editor of Cincinnati Magazine — rang me up and asked me if I wanted to contribute to a photo essay about beer league hockey players for the April issue, my initial thought was that I was woefully ill-equipped for the gig. But I overcame my imposter fears and I’m so glad I did, because I got to interview a bunch of very interesting folks from all walks of life, united by their love of “the good old hockey game.”

The entire piece is online here on the Cincinnati Magazine website. A couple of clips are below. Just goes to show that when you get outside your comfort zone, cool things happen.

I love a parade…

Actually, I really don’t love a parade. Whole lotta standing around to see people waving from vintage vehicles, and emergency vehicles blaring their sirens for no good reason. Marching bands are fine, I suppose, but you wind up hearing 20 seconds of the tune.

If it’s one of those parades where people throw candy from their floats, parents have to be constantly vigilant lest one of their tykes gets run over by a 1957 Chevy Coupe as s/he is chasing down an errant, dirt and gravel-encrusted Dum-Dum lollipop.

The only real highlight for me is Shriners in their tiny cars.

But today’s parade is different. It’s the Cincinnati Reds annual Opening Day Parade. The Reds are MLB’s oldest franchise – they’re celebrating their 150th anniversary this year.

As the éminence grise (or éminence rouge technically) of the league, they used to host their first game a day before the rest of the league. “Tradition,” as Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof. Or “dibs” if you prefer. First come, first served.

For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati, and the Reds remain the only major league team to always open the season with a home game.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opening_Day

That’s before MLB got greedy a couple of decades ago and decided to bow down at the altar of the Almighty TV Viewing Rights Dollar by having different (read: more prestigious) clubs open the season in Japan, Australia, Puerto Rico or other exotic locales.

Why be on the Reds when you can be in the black?

Cincinnati’s Opening Day parade has been going on for a century, organized by Findlay Market, a old-school public market in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, the area just north of downtown that was the landing spot for thousands of German immigrants (hence the name) back in the late 1800s. Findlay Market is still going strong, with dozens of independently-owned and operated businesss: butchers, bakers, fishmongers, produce peddlers, cheese merchants… you name it. They all band together to organize the parade every year, so it has a nice Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe to it.

Long before Men Without Hats

And the Reds Opening Day is an unofficial civic holiday, a day with high absenteeism at schools and businesses (Reds fever!), where thousands come downtown early to stake out a prime parade vantage point, and actual tickets to the game are a prized possession (a fact borne out by StubHub prices).

The parting of the Reds Sea.

It’s just an amateur parade for a mediocre baseball team. But really, it’s way more than that. It’s a celebration of Spring, of new life. It’s a parade of hope… hope that this season, this year, things will be better. Baseball’s just a convenient excuse to throw an optimism party.

I love a parade like that.

GQ Jay is a classy guy

Jay Wright is the head coach of the Villanova University men’s basketball team. They’ve won the NCAA Championship two of the last three years, which is an amazing feat for any squad, much less a team from a small, private school. Jay is also a handsome dude who is always nattily attired on the sidelines, hence his “GQ Jay” nickname.

Love the pocket square.

As a Xavier basketball fan, it’d be easy to hate him, and not just because he’s prettier than I am. Xavier has played in the same conference as Villanova since joining the reconstituted Big East in 2013, and the Wildcats have owned the Musketeers: 12 wins and only 2 losses. That includes the most recent overtime win by Villanova in the Big East semifinals that killed Xavier’s slim chance of making the NCAA tourney. But he had some very kind words to say about Xavier and their first-year head coach Travis Steele after the game:

Wright, the Big East coach of the year, said, “I told Travis he’s making it look easy. First year, he did a lot with this team. They’ve got a young team, too. They were playing as well as anybody in the conference coming down the stretch, and we knew it. This was no surprise at all. 

“Anybody who’s in their first year in any sport – the coach, the staff, you’ve got graduate transfers, you’ve got freshmen – a lot of people in their first year. That’s what we’re struggling with a little bit. Our staff, we lost our two top assistants the last two years. They had it worse … new head coach.  

“It takes time, man. It takes time. What Travis did with that team from the beginning to where they’re playing now, I don’t know all the tournament stuff, but that team could beat a lot of NCAA Tournament teams. A lot. I think it’s a credit to Travis and their program. They get all those guys back, man, they’re going to have a hell of a team.” (Source: this Cincinnati Enquirer article.)

That’s a classy move by a classy guy. And he’s not just Wright, he’s also right: Xavier will have a hell of a team next year.


Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Blues: The Next Generation

Here’s a photo of two blues legends… and two future legends.

L to R: Bob Margolin, Phil Wiggins, Joe Tellmann and Ben Levin

The dude at far left is “Steady Rollin'” Bob Margolin, who played with Muddy Waters from 1973 to 1980, and has been performing under his own name since, garnering Blues Music Awards along the way. The gentleman on harmonica is Phil Wiggins, a master of the”Piedmont Blues” style, most notably in the duo Cephas & Wiggins, which performed for 32 years until guitarist John Cephas passed away in 2009. Phil is still actively performing, and was awarded an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2017.

The kid on guitar is Joe Tellmann. I worked with his dad Dave in the early 90s, at a tiny indie rock station called 97X. (Shameless plug: Dave & I do a podcast about our days at the station.) Dave and I have been friends ever since. The kid on piano is Ben Levin, a neighbor of ours. He and our oldest son Gabriel went to school together in junior high. Now Joe, Ben and Gabriel are all freshmen at the University of Cincinnati.

Joe and Ben are blues wunderkinds – musical prodigies with more chops than a Bruce Lee movie. The photo above is from a Pinetop Perkins Foundation MasterClass performance last summer in Clarksdale, Mississippi (“crossroads of the blues”). The Pinetop Perkins Foundation supports young artists who are interested in the blues, and provides opportunities for them to learn from seasoned pros.

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But let’s set aside the musical talent for a moment. Both Joe and Ben are great kids. Even if they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, their parents would have ample right to be proud of the young men they’ve become. Their musical talents are just icing on the cake… or maybe the discipline required to learn and master an instrument also comes in handy off stage. When schools face budget cuts, the music program is one of the first ones to walk the plank. That’s a shame, because music has myriad benefits.

Some folks claim the blues are a dying art form, but I disagree. Check out this clip and you’ll agree that with Joe and Ben involved, the blues are in extremely capable hands.

Meet the artist

I had lunch with a world-famous artist yesterday. OK, he’s not world-famous yet, but he’s certainly nationally-famous. More importantly, he’s one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet.

photo credit: Corrie Schaffeld, Cincinnati Business Courier

Keith Neltner and I worked together at a Cincinnati ad agency (ahem, “design studio”) for about five years, more than a decade ago. He was a brilliant graphic designer and I was a hack copywriter… your classic Odd Couple storyline. Keith’s skill level, his talent, his “eye”… is off the charts. Yet it’s matched by his work ethic, which came from spending his entire childhood (and beyond) working on his family’s small farm in Northern Kentucky.

Keith hung his own shingle several years ago – Neltner Small Batch is the name of his company. He’s still working his magic, but instead of doing it for the P&Gs of the world, he’s doing it for smaller, more craft-oriented companies like LIC.

Keith also does artwork for musicians, including the album layout for Shooter Jennings’ most recent release.

Which is great, but I still think his art is underappreciated because it’s typically intertwined with commerce. However, a recent project that Keith and his Neltner Small Batch collective worked on is pure heart and pure art. They (Keith, Tom Post, Chris Dye, Andi Bussard and Andy Sohoza) created a 63-foot wall mural in graphic novel style to share stories from holocaust survivors at Cincinnati’s Holocaust & Humanity Center.

Photo credit: Hailey Bollinger, CityBeat

You can read more about it in Cincinnati CityBeat , the Cincinnati Enquirer (and the Cincinnati Business Courier if you have an account).

I feel like this is just the start of the next phase of Keith’s career. Stay tuned…

It’s Ladies’ Night and the feeling’s right

On Monday evening, Erika Wennerstrom, leader of the band Heartless Bastards, played an intimate set at a bar in the hipster part of town. Actually, she played two sets – the original gig at 6 p.m. sold out quickly (not surprising – the room capacity was well under 100) so they added a second set at 9 p.m.

I’m a bit slow on the uptake (if you read this regularly, that shouldn’t come as a shock), so I missed out on getting tickets to the 6 p.m. show, whose starting time was much more conducive to my Middle-Aged-Man-On-A-School-Night schedule.

I know the feeling, Liz Lemon.

However, I’m a live music super trooper, so I sucked it up and hit the late show with my friends David and Sandy. (“David & Sandy” could also be the name of a ’60s duo…)

Erika was the star of the show – a pint-sized dynamo with a majestic voice. But she shared the stage with two other women: Beth Harris (from the Cincinnati band The Hiders) provided angelic harmony vocals and Lauren Gurgiolo (formerly of Okkervil River) played lead guitar in an understated-yet-amazing way.

L to R: Beth Harris, Erika Wennerstrom, Lauren Gurgiolo

Erika’s used to playing large clubs and festivals with her band… and I’m used to seeing them in that setting. This was a wonderful opportunity to see her at a more casual, more personal gig. (She’s from Dayton, Ohio and formed her band in Cincinnati.) It didn’t disappoint. The set list consisted mostly of songs off her new solo album, and they sounded great live. And it’s always a treat to be so close to the stage.

Actually, I have no regrets about the late evening. It was totally worth it because it was so extraordinary.

Something fresh from The Bakerman

After publishing yesterday’s post, I realized it was an inadvertent rerun – it had the same “inspirational quote” content as a post from mid-December. Clearly, I need to stock up on gingko biloba or some other memory aid (real or imagined).

To make up for yesterday’s stale post, today we have something piping hot and fresh from The Bakerman. Also known as Steve Baker… or just plain “Bake.” He’s a broadcasting legend, and I don’t use that term lightly (just ask Joe Buck).

“The Bakerman”

Steve’s current role is Assistant Athletic Director – Director of Broadcasting for Miami University. But in a prior life, he worked at 97X for 20 years, as a news reporter, midday host, morning show host, station manager, play-by-play man for Miami U. football and basketball (he still does that in his current role), assistant engineer, only person with any technical expertise for live/remote broadcasts, etc. I had the privilege of working with him for a few years back in the late 80s and early 90s. He’s one of the best play-by-play people in the universe, and a great guy to boot.

My friend Dave (with whom Bake and I both worked at 97X) and I have started a podcast about the good old days at 97X, a tiny station in Oxford, Ohio that was one of the first in the country to play “college rock/indie rock/alternative” music and did so for more than 20 years, earning national accolades in the process. The station had a crappy, hard-to-pickup signal, but it also had an oversized influence on its listeners (and employees).

In our most recently published episode, we spend 20 minutes chatting with Steve. If you listen, you’ll hear some great stories from Steve – including how he started at “that damn punk rock station” and how his stellar voice (“great pipes” as we say in the business) wound up in the Academy Award-winning Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman movie Rainman.

If you’re so inclined, you can visit the podcast home page for three other episodes, and you can even “follow” it to be alerted when there’s a new episode (about every two weeks… provided the co-host/recording engineer/editor known as dubbatrubba doesn’t have too much other stuff going on.)

Small Room, Big Love

Last night I went a house concert. Not just any house concert, but the debut house concert at the home of my friends Jacqui and Dave.

Photo credit: Jameson Killen

They’re music heads, just like me… although they actually have musical talent. We’re talking “graduated from Berklee College of Music” level talent. Chops aside, we’re similar in our passion for live music. Here’s a snippet from the About Us page of the website they set up for their house concert series, which they’ve dubbed Parlor & Patio:

Years ago, we were just two crazy college kids who haphazardly met in a living room while listening to music. You could say that was a life-changing moment.

For us, music has always been more than background ambiance. It’s an experience we crave and cherish. We also believe it connects people in ways that are meaningful and universal. Through Parlor & Patio, we hope to foster some new experiences and connections by bringing friends, community and traveling artists together in a listening room environment.

Amen to that! And Dave & Jacqui aren’t just dabbling in this new venture, they are going full throttle. They’ve already booked a show a month for the next several months!

They kicked things off last night with a solo gig from Rob Fetters, a local legend who should be a national legend. He’s been playing in Cincinnati bands for decades, first with The Raisins, then The Bears and finally the psychodots. All stellar, all woefully underappreciated. As his website bio says:
Rob Fetters has spent decades making records and performing music on the edgy fringe of American power pop. 

Photo source: Robfetters.net

Rob’s a great singer, songwriter and storyteller. And he can pick and/or shred with the best of them on guitar. He also happens to be a wonderful human being.

Two amazing hosts + one phenomenal artist = One-of-a-kind concert. Rob played two sets, 20+ songs, told some hilarious stories (and some sad ones too). And the 40 folks in attendance were there to listen, not to chit-chat or Snapchat.

I can’t wait for the next gig in the Parlor & Patio series. It’s music from the heart that nourishes your soul. And we all need big love now…

Someone super behind the hoopsters

It’s been a tough season so far for Xavier basketball, but the fact that fans can be “disappointed” with a middling season in the Big East shows just how far the program has come over the past two decades. A lot of credit for that growth goes to a man who never played a minute for the team. Dr. Bill Daily was a Xavier grad who returned to teach, and he was passionate about hoops. The university had dropped football in the early 70s to cut costs, and in the late 70s the basketball program was in a similar predicament.

“(Daily) was the single voice to say that this basketball thing is really an important piece of what a University is really all about. He convinced them to make a commitment and spend the resources and he chaired the search committee to get Bob Staak.” 

Gary Massa, former XU basketball player (Class of ’81) and current VP of University Relations

Bob Staak helped turn the program around in the early 80s (which coincided with my time at Xavier, btw… merely a coincidence, of course). The teams got better, and the program got bigger – moving from the Midwestern City Conference to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and moving from the ancient fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens to the state-of-the-art Cintas Center on campus.


“Dr. Daily was the beginning of an unprecedented run if you go back … he had the wherewithal and the vision to see what basketball could be.” 

Gary Massa

Dr. Daily passed away last month at the age of 83. If being a “founding father” of the Xavier basketball program were all that Dr. Daily accomplished, his life would be considered a rousing success. But that merely scratches the surface of his influence on lives. Dr. Daily had six kids, and I know his daughter Maria well from our days at Xavier.

 “He really felt his purpose in life was to make sure that everybody knew they were important and they were loved.” 

Maria Dickman, daughter

From this Cincinnati Enquirer article: He continued to learn and participate in a variety of adventures like the Urban Youth Academic Service Learning Experience in Over-the-Rhine, where he lived with and taught Xavier students in a house adjacent to Washington Park for multiple semesters. He started out teaching in the education department and eventually became chair of the communication arts department. 

He sought every opportunity to help people which led him to become co-founder of the E Pluribus Unum program at Xavier, which helped students learn about diversity in today’s society. 

He also received another degree in pastoral counseling from the Athenaeum of Ohio. He went on retreats to Gethsemani and was an associate at the Sisters of St. Francis convent in Oldenburg, Indiana. He took mission trips to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ghana.

“That’s kind of what dad’s mission in life was. He wasn’t out to get the credit, he just wanted to make sure things got done.” 

Mary Beth Bruns, daughter

Nice job, Doc. The entire Xavier community owes you a deep debt of gratitude.

(Please read the entire article about Dr. Daily. This post doesn’t do him justice.)

Radio is a sound salvation… and podcasting is the new radio.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I worked at 97X, a small-but-mighty radio station in Oxford, Ohio.

My friend Dave worked there as well (that’s how we met and became friends). Now that Dave’s two sons and my four kids are a bit older, we have some spare time on our hands. So we decided to create a podcast about our adventures (and misadventures) at 97X.

I don’t think Marc Maron and the folks at My Favorite Murder or This American Life have to watch their backs, but if you listened to 97X before it went off the air, you’ll probably find the podcast semi-entertaining. Even if you never heard (or even heard of) the station, you might get a kick or three out of the podcast. Or not. But hey, it’s only 18 minutes of your day. You’ve probably got some time off for the holidays, right? It’s the perfect aural accompaniment to taking down the Christmas lights, trying to assemble kids toys and/or scrubbing congealed ham/turkey/goose fat out of the roasting pan.

Three episodes are posted here: https://woxy.podbean.com/

You can subscribe via that same link, so you’ll never have to miss a single scintillating episode. (And you won’t miss the boring ones either.)

You can also listen/download below.

Please don’t feel obligated to listen. Dave and I just have to call it “podcasting” because that sounds fancier (and more productive) than “hanging out in the basement and reminiscing about the good old days.”