Thursday, April 26, 2012

Best Live Music Venues

As this summer approaches, I find myself getting entrenched in concert mode. In addition to attending the aforementioned Newport Folk Festival and the soon to be announced lineup for the Xponential music festival, I have also gotten tickets for Radiohead, Marillion, Jason Mraz, and hopefully there is more to come. But I have also spent some time reflecting (not really) on the countless concerts I have been too and wide variety of venues (good and bad) that have hosted me. So I decided to take a look back at my concert history and rank the top 10 venues. The only criteria I used is that I had to have been there at least twice, which unfortunately excludes many venues in cities other than Philadelphia and New York.  I also excluded any festival grounds (sorry New Orleans Fairgrounds and Fort Adams!) because that is a whole different concert experience.

10. Johnny Brenda's (Philadelphia, PA) - This venue boasts one of the best microbrew selections and also one of the smallest stages I have ever seen. Overflowing with character and offers a great balcony if you want to be literally on top of the performer. Acts I've seen include Matt Pond PA, A.C. Newman, Rhett Miller

9. House of Blues (Chicago, IL & Atlantic City, NJ) - I decided to combine these two cities just so I could get H.O.B on the list. An obviously iconic place provides a great concert atmosphere, albeit slightly generic. Guster, Matt Pond PA, Maroon 5

8. Theater of the Living Arts (Philadelphia, PA) - A much improved venue from when I originally started going there 10 years ago, the TLA gets some of the best acts in Philly and now offers improved balcony seating. Knock on the TLA is that occasionally alcohol is not allowed on the main floor which sucks. John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Martin Sexton, Portugal.The Man, Mike Doughty, Sufjan Stevens, Flight of the Conchords, Gomez

7. Central Park Summer Stage (New York, NY) - This doesn't need much explaining, great music + central park = awesome. Although I am only two for two at Summer Stage, one of those happens to be a top 5 concert of all time. Guster, Ben Folds, New Pornographers

6. Tin Angel (Philadelphia, PA) - If you are looking for an intimate concert experience, this is it. Every show feels like its happening in your living room and therefore is very predisposed to audience participation and stage banter. I could really make a case for this to be higher on the list because I have never had a bad experience there but it does feel a bit too small at times. Ari Hest, Peter Himmelman, Ellis Paul, Richard Schindell, Grant Lee-Phillips

5. Jones Beach Theater (Wantagh, NY) - This is a nostalgic pick for me, because I haven't been there much in the last 10 years but I can confidently say that is the best open air theater I have ever been too (no, I haven't been to Red Rocks yet). Friendly acoustics, a great breeze, and a beautiful backdrop have made average shows seem much better than average. It is a dry venue and I despise the extra seating added in 1998, but where else can you see Neil Diamond, Iron Maiden, and Dave Matthews Band all in the same summer? James Taylor, Steely Dan, Hootie & the Blowfish, Tom Petty, Rush, Dave Matthews Band

4. Bowery Ballroom (New York, NY) - Ahhh, the Bowery Ballroom. Home to some of the best concert memories of my 20's. I really love everything about this place. Great size, acoustics, and pre-show drinking (bar downstairs is great) make this a sure bet for a fun night out. Not sure if the area around the BB has improved, because that would only make it better. Sloan, Vertical Horizon, Del Amitri

3. The Stephen Talkhouse (Amagansett, NY) - There are way more shows that I kicked myself for not going to then shows I have been too here, which is partly because this place is so much fun and also hard to get to. Another intimate venue, but unlike the Tin Angel this place feels more like you are crashing a party. Small, but friendly bar and a handful of tables if you come early or pay for the premium tickets (hint, its worth it). Martin Sexton, Kathleen Edwards, October Project

2. The Bottom Line* (New York, NY) - Outside of my father, if I had to point to my biggest musical influence growing up it was definitely The Bottom Line. Going to this place as a teenager made me feel connected to music and like I was part of a scene. Fantastic layout, terrific sound and incredible french fries...If I had a dollar for every memory in this place, I would have several dollars. Ellis Paul, Moxy Fruvous, Weird Al Yankovic, Buster Poindexter, Jude Cole, Peter Himmelman, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

1. World Cafe Live (Philadelphia, PA) - Established in 2004, the World Cafe Live has been the most integral part of my live music scene ever since. In a way, it picked up where the Bottom Line left off in the late 90's (other venues filled in during the 6 year interim). The WCL did everything right when they opened and because of that, other venues can only hope to match the various components that make this place great. There is an upstairs, for more acoustic and slightly more obscure acts, that also has a great bar and terrific food. The downstairs is pristine, a beautiful bar, perfect floor space, and an incredibly neat balcony where you can actually purchase cushions on a couch for a show. Top it all off with free shows every Friday sponsored by WXPN (Counting Crows, John Legend, Joe Jackson, Andrew Bird, The National) and it makes sense why I have been there close to 50 times in less than 10 years. Mike Doughty, Bob Schneider, Justin Currie, Rhett Miller, Josh Ritter, Josh Rouse, Joe Henry, Darius Rucker

Venues that just missed or I have only been to once: The Wetlands* (New York, NY), Fez Under Time Cafe* (New York, NY), Scottish Rite Theater (Collingswood, NJ), BB King Blues Club (New York, NY), Newport Blues Cafe (Newport, RI), Irving Plaza (New York, NY) & The Mann Center (Philadelphia, PA)
* indicates venue is no longer open

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Diamond Rugs album makes me feel ________

One day I would like to walk in to one of those dark neighborhood bars at two o' clock in the afternoon, go to the jukebox and put this album on from beginning to end.  You know the type of bar, one with those shuffleboard tables with sawdust on it and only like two or three locals in it.  I want to sit at the bar line up six pints in front of me and just go to work on them as the rest of the album plays out.

Counterpoint: Bob's Newport Folk Festival Top 5

After reading, Keith's blog regarding his top 5 for this years Newport folk festival, I thought it best I add my two cents. Admittedly, I was very disappointed this year when Keith announced that he would not be able to attend New Orleans Jazzfest . To me, that is the festival to end all festivals and although this years lineup wasn't as stellar as years past, I was still greatly looking forward to acts such as My Morning Jacket, Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, & jazz legend Herbie Hancock. I had planned on going to the Newport Folk Festival anyway, but I thought I had missed my opportunity to see MMJ & others in a festival setting this year.

Boy, was I wrong. When the NPFF lineup was announced on March 1st, I was floored. Not only did it match the Jazzfest lineup (which is hard to do because Jazzfest has 7 days of music compared to Newport's 2) it far exceeded it. That is precisely why this festival sold out by mid April (the event had only sold out once before, which was last year in early July) causing many in the Schildt family to wonder why they waited so long to get tickets. So without further adieu, here are the 5 acts I am most looking forward to at this years ridiculous lineup.

Honorable Mentions: Blind Pilot, Deer Tick, Punch Brothers, Alabama Shakes, Iron and Wine

5. Of Monsters & Men - This could easily be my number 2 or 3 if they had hit my radar screen a little earlier. But their 4 song EP followed by their full length "My Head is an Animal" instantly makes them a top 5 for this year. Keith is right in suggesting that Of Monsters and Men are tailor made for this festival. I expect them to blow the proverbial roof off.

4. Jackson Browne - This is a tough one, because currently my interest lies more in seeing bands like Blind Pilot or Alabama Shakes over someone like Jackson Browne. That being said, I grew up a HUGE Jackson Browne fan, and unlike many other iconic singer songwriters of his generation, I feel Browne isn't past his prime. And to me, there is no better setting and venue to see JB, than at the Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams. Early prediction is that "These Days" or "Late for the Sky" to close out his set on Sunday might will be an epic festival memory.

3. The Head and the Heart - Much like Keith, I was very torn when TH&TH were scheduled opposite Middle Brother last year. I chose the opposite path of my blog collaborator and spent most of my time with the Seattle powerhouse and I never looked back. TH&TH were by far the highlight of last years Newport Folk Festival for me, and my only regret is that I witnessed the epic performance alone. After the festival I missed several chances to see them play sold out shows in New York and Philly, so this year, I am praying that there are no schedule conflicts and I get to enjoy them in their entirety with my festival crew.

2. Wilco - Despite being slightly separate from the actual festival by playing the Friday show, I am extremely stoked about Wilco. I haven't seen them live in I would guess 7 or 8 years, and since then they have added significantly to their catalog with standout albums "Sky Blue Sky" and last years "The Whole Love." The atmosphere will certainly be different than the weekend portion, but in a way I am glad they are playing by themselves. There are so many songs I want to hear them play, I am excited that they will have an extended set to do it.

1. My Morning Jacket - I will agree with Keith on this one without a doubt. They are the best band I have ever seen live, and this festival will give MMJ fans a little something different when they play half of their set acoustic. I cannot wait to see what they decide to rock out too and what they decide to "folk up" for the festival. Jim James is obviously a huge supporter of the NPFF (he is 1 of 5 on the Folk Board Advisers) and I couldn't be happier that he has participated in 3 of the 4 festivals I have been too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My 2012 Newport Folk Festival Top 5

I was planning on sitting this Newport Folk Festival out. My second kid is going to be born in late May so with two kids and one of them being two months old it seemed easier to be home-bound this summer. The morning the festival was announced I got a text message from Bob (the other contributor of this blog) saying: "Do yourself a favor and don't look that the Newport lineup." Of course I looked and I honestly believe that this is the best festival lineup I've ever seen and there was no way I couldn't try to make this happen. My wife didn't need a lot of convincing and by the end of the day we had our weekend passes and our hotel booked.

I look at the lineup every day wondering how they are going to schedule all these acts that I want to see without there being some major conflicts so I've taken to trying to rank them in order of who I'm looking forward to seeing the most

Barely outside the top 5: Alabama Shakes - I've been hearing Hold On for a few months now but I picked up their new album and been checking out their performances online. I've been loving it so far and I wouldn't be surprised if I made this list in two more months if they wouldn't have forced their way on to it.

5. The Tallest Man on Earth - There are a few bands on this list that I may like better than TTMOE but since I got into The Wild Hunt album a year and a half ago I thought he was tailor made to play at Fort Adams. Even though I probably consider myself more of a Dawes fan than a TTMOE fan (spoiler alert...Dawes are not in my top 5), I'm looking forward to this guy and that venue in a big way.

4. The Head & The Heart - Last year was one of the most difficult festival conflicts I've ever had to face. The Head and The Heart were at Newport last year as well but they were opposite Middle Brother. I was planning on splitting the two sets but only ended up hearing three TH&TH songs. I have no regrets because Middle Brother was awesome but I'm not going to miss TH&TH this time around.

3. Of Monsters and Men - If you asked me to make this list two months ago these guys would not have been on it (not like anyone asked me to make this one). I posted about this album in early April so in the interest of not being redundant. Check it out here. I can't listen to this album without imagining seeing these songs live at the Newport Folk Festival

2. Deer Tick - I was not overly familiar with Deer Tick last year. I got in to the Middle Brother album in preparation for the NFF last year and ended up loving it and branching out in to Deer Tick, Delta Spirit and Dawes off of that. My friend ended up getting tickets to the Newport Blue Cafe one night where Deer Tick was taking up residency for a few nights. When we walked in it felt like we crashed a party. Since that time I've listened to Deer Tick probably more than any band between last NFF and this upcoming one. This time I'm looking forward to feeling like I was invited to the party.

1. My Morning Jacket - No brainer. The best live touring band out there as well as my favorite band. As a matter of fact, it was the 2008 NFF that got me in to them to begin with. Jim James played a solo set that year and he was the "man of the Newport Folk Festival." He was coming out with She & Him, Calexico and you'd see him all over the place checking out different acts. Two months later I saw MJJ for the first time as a band in Philly and this NFF will me my 12th.

Think about the fact that I had to leave bands like Dawes, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New Multitudes, Conor Oberst, Sharon Van Etten and Blind Pilot off the list. Those bands would make for a great festival themselves.

Also, check out my Spotify playlist for acts playing at this year's Fest:  Newport Folk Festival 2012

***Addition***-In case you missed it, Bob wrote his companion list: Check it out

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

NFL Schedule Announcement!!!...Who cares?

ESPN really needs to stop making the NFL schedule announcement a bigger deal than it is. In all honesty, I am a huge football fan but if nobody mentioned the NFL schedule to me I'm not sure I would even think about it until training camp started. The only thing that's borderline interesting is who is going to play the first prime time game of the year (and even still, I hate that game). Now we'll see a bunch of people waste their time analyzing next year's schedule based on last season's records which will be completely useless information with all the parity in the NFL today.

I get the NFL Network doing something for it. That network is probably starved for content during the off season. And I'm sure there are people who aren't MLB, NHL and NBA fans who might get up for a little football news in April but for ESPN to spend anything over a minute per SportsCenter on it seems unnecessary.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Big C-op Out

If you have not watched the Season 3 premiere of The Big C or plan on catching up with the series later on. STOP READING. Spoilers ahead.

The Big C is not a great show. It's a decent way to spend a half hour but it has it's flaws. The two biggest things it has going for it are Laura Linney and Oliver Platt. I was very impressed with how Season 2 ended with Paul(Platt) having a heart attack and the show giving a pretty good inclination that he died. While it would have been a shame to lose Platt from the show, I applauded the fact that they would kill him off. It's ballsy, it would add another layer to the show with Cathy's(Linney) cancer not only being the thing that is probably going to kill her, it's also the thing that could cause her son to be an orphan. That would have been interesting. So when the show opens season 2 and Cathy is in a bar and she's asked to come up with a name for a drink and she calls it a "Thirsty Widow" I thought, "Sweet. They went through with it." When Cathy gets home from the bar and we see Oliver Platt sitting in the chair I was okay with it since I figured that she would be imagining dead people not unlike she sees her old neighbor. It's part comedy, so I get that Paul is a big part of the comic relief. I could let that slide.

But when it turned out Paul was actually alive, for real, I found myself pretty disappointed. And on top of that, Cathy's drug trial is working too. She has more time! Now the show can maybe go 6 or 7 seasons! For a show that seemed to be aiming for a quirky yet realistic look at a woman and her family dealing with he cancer, it really dropped the ball. It showed me that there are no stakes on this show. Sure, there has been a death in each of the two seasons so far but they were just essentially season long guest stars. Nobody that really mattered though and the neighbor who died in season 1 has appeared in a handful of episodes since anyway. So technically they can get away without losing any actors.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pick Up This Album: Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal

Of Monsters and Men's debut album, My Head is an Animal, was released in the US today. A friend of mine shared the Into the Woods EP with me a few months ago and honestly, I put it on the back burner for awhile due to an influx of new music I received around that time. I made a big Spotify play list of Newport Folk Festival artists and they were on it but since it's 780 tracks long they kind of got lost in the shuffle. One day I heard Little Talks on the radio not knowing who it was so I sat in the car until they told me. From that point on I must have listened to the Into the Woods EP close to a hundred times. The fact that the same four songs don't get old to me really is a testament to how good these songs are. I can't remember the last time I was this excited to pick up a band's debut full length album.

For those not familiar, Of Monsters and Men is a six piece Icelandic indie/folk-pop band. They've been compared in many places to Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. One thing that they have that I'm a sucker for is a male and female co-lead singers. And Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar þórhallsson's voices play off each other perfectly. I've listened to the album twice (so far) this morning and I couldn't even tell you what the worst song is. Not a skip worthy song on it.

In a few short months Of Monsters an Men went from a band I was just going to brush up on before going to the Folk Festival in July to a band that's on my "must see" list along with the likes of My Morning Jacket, Deer Tick, Dawes and The Head and The Heart.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NCAA Tournament Championship Game - Live Blog Event Replay

Tonight we will be live blogging the NCAA Tournament starting at 9pm. Along with our posts we will be including tweets from some college basketball reporters like Andy Katz, Seth Davis and Pat Forde etc. The idea is to give our own thoughts as well as making it a one stop social media stop for tonight's game.

NCAA Tournament and Championship Game Thoughts

In the interest of not flooding this blog with NCAA Tournament posts over the last month I decided to hold back until the Championship Game.

I follow a lot of college basketball guys on Twitter and they are making me feel like not going to this Final Four is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I love college basketball and I love New Orleans. I get a pit in my stomach every time I read a NOLA-centric tweet by those guys.

As a whole this tournament hasn't been that exciting. It's been a good watch with the two 2-15 upsets and everything but to go through a whole tournament without a buzzer beater is disappointing. There were a few moments that you wish happened: the ref making the right call and giving UNC-Asheville a chance to make history against Cuse, Rob Brandenberg's three pointer to fall for VCU against Indiana, . If they give the ball to Asheville like they should have they have a chance to tie it up and the one that would have been the feel good story of the tournament with Robbie Hummel hitting that game tying three pointer against Kansas. This tournament could have used that one. I'm not even counting Wisconsin's last shot against Syracuse. That one just rubbed me the wrong way. Jordan Taylor had 15 seconds to make a pass or two to set up a better shot. Instead he had a hero complex and just dribbled himself in to a bad shot attempt. Although if Josh Gasser was able to throw in that offensive rebound attempt, Taylor's shot would have been wiped from my memory.

On to the Championship Game tonight. I cannot be more impressed with what Kansas has done this year. This was the year they were going to have to rebuild. They weren't even picked to win the Big 12 (preseason 3rd behind Baylor and Missouri). I know Bill Self has a national title under his belt but even if they lost to Ohio State on Saturday, it's by far the best coaching job of his career. All that being said, I look across at Kentucky and can easily see them running away with the game tonight. Kentucky having an eraser around the basketball does not play in to Thomas Robinson's strengths. He likes to bully his to the rim for baskets. And with Anthony Davis around waiting to help it looks like a 4-15 type of game for Robinson. For Kansas to have any shot at winning tonight Tyshawn Taylor needs to hit some shots from outside. He's 0-20 from three in the tournament. Actually, as a whole, Kansas is going to need to live on the outside.

The line is Kentucky -6.5. I haven't decided how I'm going to bet it yet. My head is telling me Kentucky but I really want to root for Kansas. It may be a prop Championship Game. We'll be live blogging it here so I'll make my picks during that.