Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Cool Camps (Part 2): Why Let Kids Have All The Fun?

April 2, 2010

If you read Part 1 of this series, which featured seven way-cool summer camps for kids, you may have come away wishing there were a way us grown-ups could get in on the fun.  At least I know I did.

Camp Winnarainbow founder wavy gravy

Camp Winnarainbow's Wavy Gravy

Which lead me to put together this list of adult-only “camps” that’ll give the tweens and teens in your life just as many reasons to be jealous:

Hollywood TV Star Fantasy Camp

Get ready for your close-up as you play your part in this “made-for-TV” crime drama.

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp

Five days of jamming in laid back settings ranging from small combos to big bands.

Camp Winnarainbow

Run away to join the circus at this far-out program put on by hippie legend Wavy Gravy.

World Poker Tour Boot Camp

Raise your game to the next level at these two-day clinics taught by tournament pros.

Space Camp

Space Camp

Always wanted to be an astronaut?  Well, now you can at least train like one!

Bull Riding Camp

Here’s your chance to experience the longest eight seconds of your life from atop a rodeo bull.

CIA Boot Camps

Foodies can join Culinary Institute of America instructors for the tastiest “camps” anywhere!


Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Michael Jordan’s Basketball Fantasy Camp


Blues Travelers: Memphis’ American Dream Safaris Offers A Chance To Really FEEL The Blues

March 15, 2010

Blues Tour American Dream Safaris

Tad Pierson

If you’re more than just a casual fan of the blues—someone who can trace the connection* between blues legends like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters, for example—sooner or later you have to make the pilgrimage to the land where this distinctly American art form was born.

While you could certainly explore the area on your own, I’ve discovered an alternative that will help you get a lot more out of your visit.  Namely a plugged-in local guide by the name of Tad Pierson, a one-man college of musical knowledge whose decades of experience can help you develop a much greater appreciation for the music and the landscape that spawned it.

Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel.

— Jimi Hendrix

Rather than being packed into a soulless tour bus and fed a canned recitation of local lore, Pierson’s Memphis-based American Dream Safaris offers tours designed to allow you to actually feel the unique vibe here from the back of his 1955 Cadillac.  His repertoire of excursions ranges from a three-hour “Greatest Hits” spin through the streets of Memphis to all-day expeditions along the deserted back roads of the Mississippi Delta.  Along the way you’ll be served up heaping helpings of everything from Elvis shrines to rocking gospel choirs to smoke-filled juke joints.Blind Lemon Jefferson 78

More than anything else, however, Pierson’s tours offer blues aficionados something as rare as an original 78 of by Blind Lemon Jefferson: A chance to have a truly extraordinary experience.

*Both were interviewed by and made their first recordings for American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax.


Hit The Stage With Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

School of Rock Field Trip: Cleveland’s Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame

Mardi Gras Mentoring: How To Kill Time Between Parades

February 12, 2010

If you’re headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend, you’re in for a real treat.  I can tell you from personal experience that I sincerely doubt there’s a friendlier place or happier time on the face of the planet.

By this point you probably already know the two dozen parades that roll through the city’s streets between now and Fat Tuesday are the big attraction here (if you need parade info, check out my friend Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide).  What you might be wondering, however, is what to do with yourself in the hours before or after all those floats roll by.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own highly subjective and slightly idiosyncratic list of my favorite ways to kill time between Mardi Gras parades:

Cafe du monde new orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Eat, Eat, Eat

  • Personally, I think it should be against the law for visitors to eat at a national chain restaurant or fast food franchise in New Orleans.  But if you’re not sure where to go, here are four can’t miss recommendations you can string together to create a day-long feeding frenzy:
  • Breakfast at Café du Monde (hint: get your beignets and café au lait to go and scarf ‘em down watching the river traffic from atop the nearby Moonwalk).
  • When lunchtime rolls around, grab a muffaletta from the Central Grocery and then pull up a bench on Jackson Square for some first-rate people-watching.
  • The sheer number of great restaurants here makes recommending a dinner spot tough, but I’ve found you can’t go wrong with the crawfish etoufee or shrimp creole at the Gumbo Shop.

Music, Music, Music

If there’s anything that can rival these local delicacies on the list of New Orleans’ greatest pleasures, it’s the local music scene.  There are dozens of popular venues (check out Offbeat magazine for a full listing), but here are my two favorites:

  • While a bowling alley may sound like an odd place to go looking for live music, Mid City Lanes—the originator of the Rock-n-Bowl concept—is known as much for its jumpin’ bands as it is for its 18 lanes.
  • The stage at Tipitina’s has played host to a long line of New Orleans’ home-grown legends, from Professor Longhair to Dr. John to the Neville Brothers, and it’s always a safe bet for great local music.

Tipitina's New OrleansHelp, Help, Help

While New Orleans has made an admirable recovery when it comes to all those things that make it a world-class tourist destination, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done to help local residents undo the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  You can do your part—and earn some serious good karma in the process—by volunteering with one of the dozens of local organizations working to rebuild the hardest hit areas of the City That Care Forgot.

Related Experiences

A Mind-Blowing Mardi Gras: How To Go From Spectator To Participant in One of New Orleans’ Glitziest Parades

9 Things I Learned At Mardi Gras

A Mind-Blowing Mardi Gras: How To Go From Spectator To Participant in One of New Orleans’ Glitziest Parades

February 2, 2010

I’m looking out at a sea of outstretched arms and upturned faces.  The noise is just this side of deafening, a long pulsating chorus of “Hey, Hey, Hey!”  In response to their pleadings, I’m chucking handfuls of cheap plastic trinkets at the crowd while dressed in an outfit so garish it would make your average clown costume look downright somber.

If this sounds like something straight out of one of those freaky dreams where you wake up sweating and shaking your head, well, you’re close.  Except this surreal scene was very real.  And very, very fun.

You see, while I’d been to a lot of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans over the years, I always assumed you had to be born into the right family to join one of the dozens of organizations—known as “krewes”—that put them on in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.  That was until my friend Arthur Hardy, publisher of the indispensable Mardi Gras Guide, happened to mention there were a number of krewes that actually welcomed outsiders like me to join in the fun.

Long story short, I jumped at the chance to go from parade spectator to participant by signing on with the star-studded Krewe of Orpheus.  On the day of the event, we loaded hundreds of pounds of beads aboard our float, donned our goofy-looking costumes and masks, and rolled out of the New Orleans Convention Center for an experience that can best be described as five hours of the most extraordinary nonstop chaos I’ve  ever had the pleasure to be in the middle of.

If you’re interested in seeing a Mardi Gras parade from this downright mind-blowing perspective, here are a few of the New Orleans krewes with membership open to the general public:

Krewe of Orpheus

Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club

Krewe of Morpheus

Krewe of Tucks

Related Posts:

9 Things I Learned About Mardi Gras

Rock Band, Only For Real

September 2, 2009

Some songs are timeless. Like, oh, say the entire Beatles catalog, for example.  Which makes next Wednesday a big day, for reasons that go beyond the numerology implications of its unique 09/09/09 date.

beatles_wideweb__470x420,2First, it’s the day the folks at Capitol/EMI release the first digitally-remastered versions of all 12 of the Beatles studio albums in 22 years.  A team of engineers at London’s Abbey Road Studios spent four years reworking the albums using a combination of the latest technology and vintage equipment to create what promises to be unparalleled sound quality that faithfully reproduces the original analog recordings.

Not coincidentally, next Wednesday also marks the long anticipated release of The Beatles: Rock Band for Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and Nintendo Wii video game consoles.  The game offers more than three dozen vintage Beatles tunes and a number of interesting new features, along with optional add-ons like copies of the Fab Four’s classic instruments.

While all this sounds like great fun, allow me to restate one of our guiding principles here at  Reality kicks virtual reality’s butt any dayWhich is why I’d recommend that those of you looking to have an authentic rock band experience check out the programs put on by Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp which pair rocker-wannabes with a wide range of genuine rock star “counselors.”FOTO 11-A

Of all my extraordinary experiences, playing with Kip Winger’s band in front of a sold-out crowd at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium remains one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.  It also proves that—like the Rock Band video game—limited musical ability is no excuse not to get up there and perform!

An Extraordinary Place

August 29, 2009

Hurricanes signIn my adult life, I’ve lived in more than a dozen cities and spent time in dozens more.  And I’m here to tell you that, in my experience, there’s no place on this planet that can match New Orleans when it comes to pure, irrepressible joi de vivre.

What I find truly extraordinary, however, is the fact that this laid-back, fun-loving vibe has remained virtually unchanged despite the dramatic damage inflicted when Hurricane Katrina hit the Crescent City four years ago today.  While many New Orleans neighborhoods remain devastated, the laissez le bon temps rouler spirit that earned this town the nickname “The City That Care Forgot” remains remarkably intact.

Nine Lives coverThough I’m convinced you need to experience this intangible quality first-hand before you can truly understand it, Dan Baum’s new book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans comes as close as anything I’ve ever read to getting to the heart and soul of what makes this place so special.  The book is a great read, a real page-turner, as it tells the story of New Orleans’ unique culture through the lives of nine very different individuals, from millionaire Mardi Gras kings to hard-working blue-collar types, all set against the backdrop of the hurricane’s aftermath.

With all that in mind, we asked Baum to share some of his insights on New Orleans:

AR:  In your book you say New Orleans is like no other city in the United States.  What makes it so different?

DB: The U.S. tends to be a place where everyone is always trying to get ahead, trying to make tomorrow better than today.  New Orleans is the opposite of that, a place where the people seem to pay no attention to the future whatsoever, they’re totally living in the moment.  Which is a delightful way to live if you can get away with it.  Another big difference is that there’s no such thing as a stranger in New Orleans.  You ask someone you’ve never met a simple question and you wind up in this long friendly conversation where next thing you know it’s 45 minutes later.

AR:  You went to New Orleans to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for the New Yorker.  So how did you wind up writing a book that’s less about the damage done by the storm than it is the life stories of these nine people?

DB: It was about six months into my reporting when I realized I was really bored with writing about the hurricane.  Katrina was a big thing, but it’s not the most interesting thing about New Orleans by any means.  I just became fascinated by the unique culture of the city and decided the best way to tell that story was through these nine very different individuals.

AR:  It’s been four years since the flood that wiped out entire neighborhoods in New Orleans.  How do you think the city’s recovery is progressing?

DB: It depends what you want to see.  When I go back to visit, I see the glass as half full.  I’m amazed at how much has been rebuilt, especially considering the lousy help they’ve received.  But the people who live there every day really do still feel the loss.  They say “Are you kidding? A third of our people haven’t come back yet, all these local places we’ve been going to for years are gone.”New_Orleans_Sign

AR:  Do you think New Orleans will ever be the same?

DB: People there definitely want changes like better schools, but they’ve also made  a very conscious  decision to put things back to the way they were before the storm.  And I mean that in a good sense.  They’ve already made it very clear they don’t want New Orleans to become just another a big soulless city driven by the dollar and the clock.

AR:  Any final words for someone thinking about visiting the Crescent City?

DB: I’m always trying to encourage people to go to New Orleans.  The food, the music, the architecture, the story-telling—all the things that make it such a great place to visit—are all still there.  It’s also quite inexpensive, by the standards of most cities.  I think it’s one of the best vacations you can take and more out-of-town visitors are exactly what the city needs most right now.

Hot Rods & Cool Concerts

August 10, 2009

Woodstock_music_festival_posterIf you were going to sit down and make a list of every uniquely American pop culture icon you could think of, hot-rods and rock-n-roll would have to be near the top of that list. Which makes two extraordinary experiences on tap for this coming weekend seem oddly patriotic:

Peace and Music

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the legendary open-air festival that saw 500,000 people descend on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York for “three days of peace and music.”  If you weren’t there, you can get a feel for the event Rolling Stone magazine called one of the “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock-n-Roll” as the Heroes of Woodstock tour rolls into the Bethel Woods Center For The Arts, a 2,000-acre performance venue built on the site of the famous hippie-fest with many of the original Woodstock performers, including Jefferson Starship, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Canned Heat, and more.  If you can’t make it to this Saturday’s show, you can catch the tour at eight other dates from Boston to Los Angeles through October 10th.

Hot Rod Heaven

While there are lots of custom car shows held around the U.S. each year, none can come close to Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise.  This Saturday, August 15th will see more than a million automotive aficionados and their families lining the curbs along 16 miles of Woodward to watch 40,000 of the coolest hot rods, customs, and classic cars you’re ever likely to find gathered in one place roll by.  And the best part is that is that this day-long celebration of all things wheeled is free!

A Memorable Mardi Gras

February 7, 2009

5Look over the list of extraordinary experiences I’ve had over the years and you might imagine it’d be hard for me to get really revved up about anything anymore. Well, let me tell you, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Case in point: I’m heading off to partake of Mardi Gras in New Orleans in a couple of weeks and I’m practically giddy about the experience I have planned. You see, while I’ve always had a blast being part of the crowd at Mardi Gras parades, this time around I’ve figured out a way to go from spectator to participant.

It all started when my friend Arthur Hardy (who publishes Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide,  the definitive guide to carnival in New Orleans) let me in on a little secret. While they don’t advertise it, a number of krewes (the organizations who put on the parades) offer outsiders the opportunity to ride on their floats for a one-time membership fee.

So if you happen to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, look for me on Float number 20 (pictured above) in the star-studded Krewe of Orpheus parade on Monday night, February 23rd. Or better yet, call the krewe’s offices (504-822-7200) to secure one of the few remaining spots in the parade and come join me in what promises to be a truly extraordinary experience.

Giggles Per Greenback

January 26, 2009

meterLook, I watch the nonstop gloom-and-doom festival they call the nightly news and I know that times are tough all over.  But I also know that, if ever there was a time when we could all use to blow off a little steam and have a few laughs, well, this is it.

Which is why I’ve created  a thoroughly unscientific list of extraordinary experiences that I feel are outstanding values.  We’re talking about maximum yucks for minimum bucks

All will set you back less than $500.  Which seems like a small price to pay for an adventure guaranteed to make you forget all those news reports that had you feeling so freaky-freaky in the first place:


Heavy-Duty Therapy

Feeling frustrated?  Powerless?  Here’s my prescription: Take a few hours of tearing stuff up behind the controls of a 20-ton bulldozer or tracked excavator and call me in the morning.

 Mellow Out With Manatees

Remember the old Get Smart episode with the retrogressor gun, a device that made everyone act like a goofy eight-year-old kid for 30 minutes?  Coming face-to-face with a Florida manatee is just like that, only wetter.

Paragliding For Perspective

Sometimes, when things look bad, it helps to try a different perspective.  Like cruising hundreds of feet above the Pacific on an hour-long tandem paraglider flight from La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Gliderport.

Driven To Distraction

Car lovers looking for a little four-wheeled escapism need look no further than Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise.  If 12 hours of rubbernecking at 40,000 hot rods, customs, and classics doesn’t distract you from your troubles, nothing will.

Golden Opportunity

Who couldn’t use a little extra cash right about now, you know, for little luxuries like rent and groceries?  Well, allow me to suggest you go pick it up from the source on one of these gold prospecting adventures.

Iron Butt It!

For me, riding a motorcycle has always been a great way to decompress.  Add the gorgeous scenery and mental challenges of riding in a 24-hour endurance rally like the Utah 1088 and you have an experience that is both extraordinary and therapeutic.

Fais Do-Do At Fred’s

If there were a graduate-level course in forgetting your worries, they’d teach it during the weekly Saturday morning Cajun dance party at the legendary Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead, show up here and try and have a bad time here, I dare you.

Run Flat Out

Life is complicated.  Which explains the appeal of running in the USFRA’s 130 MPH Club on the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Pull up to the starting line, stand on the gas pedal, grin like an idiot, and hang on.  If only everything were this simple.

Leap Of Faith

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane may seem a little nutty, but I’ll tell you this: If there’s a more fully-alive-in-the-present-moment experience on this planet, I haven’t found it.  Plus, after watching them open that door at 14,000 feet, nothing you face in your everyday life will ever seem all that scary again.

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy

September 24, 2008

Alright friends, quick question:  What do guitar legend Jimi Hendrix and I have in common?  Give up?  Well, here it is:  We’ve both taken the stage to perform at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium. 

I got the chance to play the Fillmore recently as a participant in the Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp.  After a full day of rehearsals with our “camp counselor” Kip Winger (yes, that Kip Winger,  front-man for the multi-platinum ‘80s rock band of the same name), my four bandmates and I took to the same stage that helped launch the carreers of  Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and—well—more rock legends than you can count.

While the one-day “On Tour” program has wrapped up for this year, there’s still time to get in on the outfit’s week-long Fantasy Camp program in London.  If the opportunity to play alongside The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason isn’t enough of an incentive for you to get out your checkbook, you’ll also have the chance to record at The Beatles’ Abbey Road studios and play live at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club.

In the meantime, check out the Xperiences page at for the full story on my extraordinary experience rocking out at the Fillmore.