More on Blogger Bob… and another local music luminary

After yesterday’s post about Bob Burns, my fellow DJ at 97X, Matt Sledge, posted a comment:

Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.

Playing soccer just for (penalty) kicks

My youngest kid plays soccer for the junior high team at his school. This past weekend, they won the city tournament, capping off an undefeated season. The finals came down to penalty kicks, and his team’s goalie, who is also our carpool buddy for practices, made a great leaping block of one PK to seal the win.

My son also played for the squad last year, as a 7th grader, and they won the tourney that year too. Which is certainly exciting, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Can you pick him out of the photo below?

Probably not. Because it’s a team sport. And the life lessons that come from that are what really matter. Last year, he didn’t get much playing time. Even this year, as an 8th grader and one of only five returning players, he wasn’t a starter. Because that’s how life works: nothing is handed to you. You have to work hard, get better, earn it. Which he did. Besides, a player can lead without being the leading scorer — he excelled at that.

The team’s practice jerseys have “Team over Self” written on the back. A not-so-subtle reminder of how to play.

I’m happy for the team, but not because they’re “champs”… because they’re a great group of kids who get along well with each other. Long after the trophies are collecting dust in a corner of the basement, the friendships he’s formed will remain. That’s a much bigger win in my book.

 

We’re more connected than ever. We’re less connected than ever.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

Thanks to our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops… heck, even our “smart refrigerators”… we’re more connected than ever. We can get the information we need (or a bunch of time-sucking listicles and memes) easier than ever before. But there’s a tradeoff: what we’re losing is our ability to connect with other people, face-to-face (sorry, FaceTime doesn’t count).

… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Exhibit A: Tourists. “Back in my day” when you were in a strange city or country, you’d have to stop and ask a local. “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the museum?” Mundane, sure, but also a chance to connect… “Where are you visiting from?… Oh, I have an uncle who lives in Albuquerque!”

Now, we use Google Maps to help us navigate (even though Google Maps doesn’t know the shortcuts). We use Yelp to figure out where to eat. Heck, even hailing a cab required a bit more conversation than Uber or Lyft… “Where to, Mack?”

Seems like we’re forgetting how to strike up a conversation with any stranger who isn’t named Siri or Alexa.

…we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

But don’t worry, there is a cure for this social malady. It’s lederhosen. Yes, that unique German combo of cargo shorts and overalls. Allow me to explain. A couple of days ago, I went on a Pub Run with a bunch of co-workers. We ran (or walked) from one pub to another, from downtown Cincinnati across the Roebling Bridge to Northern Kentucky and back again, and had a beverage at each stop (or some of the stops, depending on when you had to pick your kid up from soccer practice). The pub run organizers, John and Jay, decided to give this run an Oktoberfest theme. So they dressed up in lederhosen (and in Jay’s case, a mullet wig – don’t ask).

At our 4th stop, a couple came up to us and — wait for it — struck up a conversation! They had spotted us at one of our previous stops, then saw us again half an hour later, so they just had to know what was going on… especially because there were lederhosen involved. Les and Amy were co-workers, in town from Tucson for a conference, and looking for a good place to eat. We were happy to meet them; they were happy to meet us. We were more than happy to explain the lederhosen (the mullet remains inexplicable). We were thrilled to be able to share our local knowledge and offer several restaurant options.

The entire encounter took less than five minutes, but I guarantee you that Les and Amy left feeling much better about the friendly folks in Cincinnati. And they probably had a better meal than Siri could serve up.

Next time you’re on the road, put down the smart phone. Act dumb. Talk to a person. Especially if they’re wearing lederhosen.

 

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

I attended a taping of the Jerry Springer Show yesterday. Don’t worry, it wasn’t that bottom-feeding TV show of his… there were no midgets married to horses, no clown strippers, no trailer park homewreckers (at least as far as I could tell – it’s not something that you ask in polite conversation).

This was the Jerry Springer Podcast.

If you’re not from Cincinnati (and old like I am) you may not know that Jerry was once a city councilman for our fair burgh… albeit a councilman who got caught in a scandal because he wrote a personal check to a call girl. His political career survived that incident and he later became mayor of Cincinnati, then a local TV news anchor. And his syndicated TV show wasn’t always the hot mess that it is now.

In 1990, his TV station’s owner (which also produced Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael) recruited him to host a new daytime talk show. “There was no expectation that it would last at all,” Springer recalls. “My first contract was six weeks.” At the beginning, The Jerry Springer Show emulated Donahue and tackled serious subjects. But the success of Ricki Lake in 1993 convinced Springer and his producers to target a younger audience and go full tabloid. “Young people are much more open in their lifestyles, so every once in a while the show would go crazy,” Springer says. By the late 1990s, Universal had bought the show—and dictated that Springer up the crazy. (Source: https://www.tvinsider.com/47933/jerry-springer-picks-10-of-his-best-of-the-worse-episodes/)

But Jerry’s podcast is something completely different. My friend Jene Galvin is Jerry’s sidekick, and they tackle political topics, along with some amusing banter among Jerry, Jene and co-host Megan Hils, plus a live performance from a roots/Americana band. (Last night’s musical guest was Wild Carrot.)

Jerry’s a lifelong liberal, so the show doesn’t just lean left, it’s a full 90-degrees left of center. But the man’s no dummy – he earned his law degree from Northwestern, spent more than a decade in local politics and won mutiple local Emmys for his TV commentaries. So he has an interesting take on the current political shenanigans (which often make the antics on his TV show look tame in comparison).

The podcast is certainly worth a listen. And if you’re in the area, I highly recommend that you attend the show, which takes place every other Tuesday at a neat little place called Folk School Coffee Parlor in the quaint Kentucky town of Ludlow, along the Ohio River. There’s also a local brewery/taproom next door called Bircus Brewing… but go after the show, not before… we don’t want any fights breaking out (save that for the TV show).

 

Green acres is the place to be, farm livin’ is the life for… not me

Yesterday afternoon the Neltner Family hosted their annual pig roast on the family farm. They’ve been hosting a pig roast for two decades – inviting generations of neighbors and friends to their place for an evening of great food and even better company. It’s old school all the way, like a church picnic… “bring a side dish or dessert to share.”

The Neltner family has been farming the same patch of land in Northern Kentucky since the late 1800s. Farming was their main occupation for generations. Plant some corn and tomatoes and apple trees, grow enough to feed your family and if the weather gods smile down upon you, sell your surplus. Nowadays, it’s more of a side hustle – the hardest side hustle ever. My friend Keith Neltner and his brother Rick are both graphic artists, and Rick does photography too. Which makes for an interesting mix of people at the pig roast:

But Keith and Rick and their siblings (and now their offspring) spend a lot of their “leisure time” working the farm.

Keith is one of the most talented artists in the world. Yet he spends his weekends doing manual labor to keep the family business going. That’s a tough row to hoe, literally.

The Neltners host a family festival at their farm several weekends in the fall. You won’t find a nicer family, or one more deserving of your hard-earned dollars. And it’s an honest-to-goodness working farm, not one of those “dump a bunch of pumpkins next to some hay bales and call it a ‘farm'” places.

Load up the family truckster. Stop by, say howdy, have some fun. And show a little appreciation for the hardest working folks around.

Going, going… gone

A couple of days ago, I helped our oldest child move into his freshman dorm room (and it was on the 11th floor, and the elevator line was too long, so we hauled his stuff up 11 flights of stairs… and it was snowing… wait, now I’m mixing up my hardship stories).

He’s not going far from home. He’s enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, which is about 8 miles from our house. But if home is where you hang your hat, he’s now living “away.” It’s been a long goodbye. He started checking out when he moved into his own room a few years ago. (It’s the one above the garage, the former guest room, a.k.a. “The Fonzarelli Suite.”) Then he got a job at a swimming pool one summer and was away even more. He added another job at Ramundo’s Pizzeria, and started driving, and hanging out with his friends more, and spending the night at their house quite a bit on the weekends… but that slow fade from our house doesn’t make his departure any easier. He doesn’t have to check in anymore, doesn’t have to text when he arrives at a friend’s house. He’s on his own… at least until laundry day (which for an 18 year old boy could be months).

As an alum of crosstown rival Xavier, I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed in my parenting. Then again, Xavier doesn’t have an engineering program.

His room at home has been empty most of the time for the past few months. But now it’s a different kind of empty.

It feels more hollow… in a way it mirrors the hole in our hearts, the void in our lives. I’m so happy for him as he starts his next adventure, and I’m trying to focus on that part of the equation. But it’s tough.

 

If music be the food of love, play on… and on… and on…

Wellsir (and madam), that was quite the music marathon that my ears just ran this weekend.

Friday night, I went to see Reverend Horton Heat doing a free show in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, at Fountain Square (as seen in the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati). I’ve seen the Reverend many times before, doing his souped-up version of rockabilly (he calls it “psychobilly”), but it had been quite a few years. My friend Todd convinced me to go (actually more like “cajoled”), and I’m so glad he did. Rev and his band sounded great, and he had Wayne “The Train” Hancock (an old school country yodeler ala Hank Williams Sr.) join him for part of the set, which was a lot of fun.

Saturday I drove an hour north of Cincy to Waynesville, Ohio (home of the annual Sauerkraut Festival!) to the debut Bellwether Festival. Saturday’s lineup included a nice mix of new and classic bands (and by “classic” I mean “bands that I used to play on 97X back in the 90s”).

Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards:

Allah-Las:

My latest obsession, Japanese Breakfast:

The Psychedelic Furs:

Echo & The Bunnymen:

And the headliners were The Flaming Lips, who seem to headline 50% of all outdoor music festivals in the country. Probably because they are so darn fun, and have a larger-than-life stage show (balloons! confetti! giant pink robot inflatable!) that’s perfect for an audience that may only be casual fans. It’s truly a spectacle.

After that long day (and 8 hours on my feet), you’d think I’d rest up on Sunday. But no, I could not rest. Mr. David Byrne was in town, at the PNC Pavilion. The former frontman for the Talking Heads is an artist in the true sense of the word, a renaissance man, a man of letters. How many other folks in rock would start a website about positive civic engagements called Reasons To Be Cheerful? His stage show is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and his band was amazing. I’ve seen hundreds of shows over the past 30+ years, but this one was easily one of the best, and certainly one of the most memorable.

Yes, it was a lot to pack into one weekend for an old man like me. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As David Byrne says:

Every day is a miracle
Every day is an unpaid bill
You’ve got to sing for your supper
Love one another

 

In a festive mood

Cincinnati loves its festivals. Every weekend during the summer, a Catholic church in the area has a fundraising festival. They all follow the same script: raffles galore, a silent auction, games of chance (lollipop pull and fish pond for the younger set, poker and blackjack for the adults), food and beverages (including alcohol). Some of the larger parishes will also throw in some carnival rides and local bands as the evening entertainment.

With the proliferation of casinos, bingo isn’t the fundraising juggernaut it used to be, but the summer festivals still draw a decent crowd.

I made it to two festivals in Cincinnati this weekend, but they were quite different in style. On Friday night my wife and I went to a church festival to see Cereal Killers, a local band featuring two friends of ours. They were stellar as always (see this blog post for more about them), which is especially noteworthy when you consider the fact that they really only play gigs a handful of times each year. But they do practice quite a bit. The lead guitarist Matt and his wife Amy are neighbors of ours, and in Amy’s eyes, “band practice” is just a convenient cover story for a guy’s night out every week. (If that’s the case, I may have to join Cereal Killers as their lead cowbell player.)

Saturday morning, I got up bright and early and rolled down to the Ohio River to participate in Paddlefest. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds… it’s just 2000+ folks in canoes and kayaks (and on paddleboards) taking a leisurely paddle down the mighty Ohio.

I’ve posted about Paddlefest before, so I won’t wax rhapsodic here. But suffice it to say it’s always a great time.

The only festival in Cincinnati that I didn’t attend this weekend was Goettafest. Yes, we have an entire weekend festival dedicated to a pork-and-oatmeal food that was popular with Cincinnati’s horde of German immigrants back in the late 1800s, and remains a Cincinnati staple to this day.

They even have a vending machine where you can purchase rolls of goetta.

Nein, danke.

I’m in a centerfold!

Yes, you should probably avert your eyes.

Don’t worry, it’s just my words… on second thought, you still should avert your eyes.

Wait, there’s a great illustration that redeems it. The illustration is not by me, of course… surely you’ve seen the hideous “design” of my blog site?

OK, without further ado or doo-doo…

It’s my first published magazine piece, in the August issue of Cincinnati Magazine. Tada!

You can read the entire thing here. It just a short intro and a few callouts in a two-page spread, window dressing for the visuals, really. It mentions beer a lot (go figure!). It won’t win a Pulitzer Prize. But it’s a milestone of which I’m proud.