Getting Hip to Hops

Not that I need any more notoriety — this blog has thousands hundreds tens a few loyal readers — but I managed to get a byline in the April edition of Cincinnati Magazine by writing the text to accompany some really cool photos (by Aaron M. Conway) of a local farm that grows hops.

You can check out the full online version here.

The editor of Cincinnati Magazine, John Fox, is an old friend of mine. When I was working at an alternative music station, he was the editor of an alt-weekly, and the station and the paper would collaborate, cross-pollinate, and co-promote events often due to the large overlap in audiences. John will throw me a magazine assignment every now and then – usually something fairly straightforward and not too time-consuming. I enjoy the challenge, and I always wind up learning something new while doing research and interviews. For the hops farm piece, I got to interview one of the growers and connect with brewers at several local breweries… it’s a really tight-knit community and it was cool to witness the spirit of collaboration among them. I also learned quite a bit about the process of growing hops, and I found it quite fascinating.

“The more you know…”

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now done four pieces for Cincinnati Magazine over the past couple of years, and two of them have been beer-centric. I think I’m being typecast. Then again, if the shoe beer mug fits…

Last Night It Snowed

Last night it snowed in Cincinnati.

I mention this for a few reasons:

  1. It’s like, totally far out to get snow on 4/20, duude.
  2. Global climate change is real.
  3. “Last Night It Snowed” is a song by the Cincinnati band Ass Ponys. Their lead singer and main songwriter is Chuck Cleaver. He’s brilliant – right up there with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon. I love, love, loved the Ass Ponys – still do, in fact, even though they faded into the sunset back in the early aughts.

Chuck Cleaver’s lyrics can be twisted, sardonic, off-kilter… downright weird. His voice is an acquired taste. But spend some time with his songs and you’ll come to appreciate his brilliance. “Last Night It Snowed” is the lead track off the Ass Ponys final studio album, Lohio. That release is a good place to start your College of Chuck courses.

Chuck’s in a band called Wussy now. They’re as amazing as the Ass Ponys were. Chuck and Lisa Walker, the other lead singer/songwriter in the band, have done nearly 40 livestream shows on Facebook over the past year, on Friday nights. Combined with a few shows from bassist Mark Messerly, members of Wussy are approaching 50 free shows. Each one’s a gem… and a lifeline in this pandemic-cursed year.

Wussy can’t tour. They have a tip jar but they never mention it. They all have day jobs. If musical genius equated to cold hard cash, they would be billionaires. But it doesn’t work out that way. We could focus on the cold, cruel music biz that’s buried them and the Ass Ponys.

A blanket white

At least it was when it came down last night

The morning brings the rain

The blanket’s washed away

Now everything turns back to grey

But instead I focus on the inherent beauty of the music. And pray that someday the world will come to appreciate it as well.

A standing Ovation for great art

My friend Keith Neltner was featured in yesterday’s Cincinnati Enquirer. The online version of the article is here. He created the artwork for a mural that will be in the green room of PromoWest Pavilion at Ovation, a new music venue in Northern Kentucky. Now he and his friends are bringing the mural to life.

L to R: Nathan Dye, Stacey Vallerie Meyer, Chris Dye, Keith Neltner Photo credit: Kyle Eli Ebersole

The artwork pays tribute to three local musicians who first rose to fame via their work on the King Records label, which was based in Cincinnati. Philip Paul was a session drummer. Otis Williams was a doo-wop artist. Bootsy Collins got his start playing with James Brown, and is widely regarded as one of the best bass players in this or any universe.

Bootsy Collins, Philip Paul and Otis Williams Photo credit: Sam Greene/The Cincinnati Enquirer

“So many people were influenced by the music that these guys created, and they have no idea that there’s a vacant building on Brewster where it all happened.”

Keith Neltner, in the Cincinnati Enquirer article linked above

The fact that they are Black musicians is significant, because that’s a big part of the King Records legacy. In King Records’ heyday in the 50s and 60s, King had an integrated workforce – not just the recording artists on the label, but also the session musicians, the A&R folks, the engineers, the workers at the pressing plant, the office staff.

This M.O. of King Records owner Syd Nathan was driven less by noble intentions and more by capitalism: he didn’t see black and white, he only saw the color of money. But to his enduring credit, he created a mini-meritocracy and a bastion of diversity in an era when most were blinded by prejudice, and helped launch the careers of performers from marginalized communities – both African-American and “hillbilly.”

Sidebar: Check out the book King of the Queen City by John Hartley Fox for the full story about King Records, one of the most important, successful and influential record companies in the history of modern music, and one whose role is often overlooked.

I’m sure the mural artwork is fantastic (I’ve written about Keith Nelter’s artistic genius before – it’s on full display on his website.) And it’s great that it will drop some King Records knowledge on the touring artists who play the venue.

“King Records was a big deal back in the day. It’s going to be a great thing when artists come to town and they can learn about King Records.”

Scott Stienecker of PromoWest, as quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer article about the mural

But because the mural is in the green room of a music venue that will hold 2,700 indoor fans, or 7,000 outdoors, the only way I’ll get to fully appreciate it is if I join a successful rock band… or become a groupie!

The Paris of the Midwest (according to a Mighty Duck)

Emilio Estevez is living in Cincinnati… and loving it!

THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Emilio Estevez, 1985, (c) Universal Pictures

In a recent interview in Vanity Fair, here’s what he had to say about my adopted hometown:

That’s mighty high praise from Mr. Mighty Ducks. We’ll take it. We’ll also take the #11 slot in the Travel + Leisure list of The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2021. Here’s what they have to say about Cincy:

The first clues that the Queen City — a Rust Belt capital that was hard hit by the decline of American manufacturing — was poised for a comeback started a few years ago, when tech startups and small businesses moved into disused Over-the-Rhine warehouses, filmmakers flocked in to take advantage of tax breaks and early-20th-century architecture, and historic spaces like the city’s Music Hall got a much-needed polish. Now, the urban revival is official — but sneak in a 2021 visit and you can still claim to be a trendsetter. Check into the Kinley, which opened its doors in downtown Cincy in October with a much-buzzed-about restaurant from chefs Kevin Ashworth and Edward Lee. While you’re in town, dine at restaurant standouts Please and Goose & Elder, explore new outdoor installations at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and pay a visit the lauded Cincinnati Zoo, whose animal dispatches on social media are the only reasonable justification for keeping your Twitter account. —Lila Battis

#1 in the Estevez Index, and #11 for Travel… not too shabby. Better watch your back, real Paris!

Band of Brothers

Yesterday I attended a happy hour with my old (both in age and tenure) buddies from Xavier. These gatherings actually are billed as “Hoppy Hour” because we meet at a different local brewery each month… and the person who picks the pub (we take turns) also picks up the tab.

A decade ago, we couldn’t have pulled off these monthly gatherings. But we’re off Little League duty now. Our kids can fend for themselves, so there’s a bit more free time in the ol’ schedule. Heck, we’ve got a few empty nesters in the gang already… and even a few grandparents!

Attendance has been great. Some of that’s due to our newfound leisure time, but I think part of it also has to do with Father Time. That ever-ticking clock reminds us we’re all going to shuffle off this mortal coil, and while we may be shufflin’, we’re still picking up speed on the downward slope. As the Buffalo Tom song says:

“Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead.”

Back in college, we were thought we were invincible. Now we know better. We’ve all come face to face with mortality. Knees and hips and sometimes hearts are wearing out. Parents, in-laws, even peers from our college days have passed on. It’s sobering… and a “Hoppy Hour” won’t bring our dearly departed back, but spending time with friends is a soothing salve for the soul, and the laughs are an over-the-counter heart remedy.

The “old guys” from the Muppets are now our peers.

Yes, we still talk about sports and bring up ill-advised-yet-somehow-we-survived stories of the beer-and-testosterone-fueled antics of our youth. That’s what guys do. But the gift of time has helped us realize that basketball games aren’t life and death. That empathy trumps ego. Caring matters more than career. We’ve all taken different paths over the past 35 years, but now it’s nice to reconnect with our fellow travelers.

If we have our health and a few close friends, we are truly blessed. If we can meet them for a beer or two every once in a while, our cup overflows. (Sorry about that… hand us a bar towel and we’ll clean it up.)

Cheers to you, my brothers from other mothers!

A War with Heart

Every year, the men’s basketball teams from Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati square off on the court, in what’s known as the Crosstown Shootout.

There’s no love lost between the two teams… there was an ugly post-game brawl in 2011.

The fan bases can get rather rabid, too. With a bit of perspective, it seems silly for normally-sane adults to get so emotionally invested in a single basketball game between two groups of mostly teenagers. (But as a Xavier alum, I’m duty bound to mention the fact that my Musketeers have won 10 of the past 14… Let’s Go X!)

However, there’s a new XU-UC “shootout” going on right now where there are only winners: the local bar and restaurant workers. It started more than a month ago when a man and his daughter left a $1,000 tip at a venerable burger joint and finished off their note with “Go Xavier!”

Since then, fans of both schools have been engaged in a friendly game of one-upmanship, leaving monster tips at dozens of local restaurants.

This tip war isn’t a war of attrition, it’s a war of appreciation for the local restaurants and bars whose business has been crippled by coronavirus, and the workers who rely on tips to get by.

It’s good to know that folks from both schools have their heart in the right place (and apparently fat wallets too).

Running list of tips from this Cincinnati.com article

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