Artists To Watch 2011

Band Song Next area appearance Why them
01. The New Pornographers Crash Years I’m a sucker for harmonies, and as soon as I heard this for the first time, said “I must see them live” (and it was great).
02. John Butler Trio One Way Road I knew they’d be performing at the Arias, and this groove is just killer.
03. Todd Wright With You 2/3/11 Jammin’ Java The end of 40×40 (40 songs in 40 weeks by his 40th birthday, all proceeds go to The American Diabetes Association) and still going strong.
04. Josh Ritter Change Of Time 2/14/11 9:30 Club What a gorgeous chorus.
05. Birds Of Tokyo Plans Another Australian band, good rock anthem.
06. Court Yard Hounds The Coast 2 of 3 Dixie Chicks, no Natalie, but not a problem with a song as good as this.
07. Luke Brindley We Go Together His new album is quiet, but powerful.
08. Dala Levi Blues Female duo from Canada, great voices.
09. Mumford & Sons Little Lion Man English folk group with a lot of buzz. Language warning on this, though.
10. US Rails Rainwater 4 of the 5 guys from 4 Way Street reunite with Tom Gillam with rootsy harmonies.
11. Jukebox The Ghost Empire The piano pop phenoms return with a new song that’s just as catchy as the last couple.
12. Shiny Toy Guns You Are The One Best ’80s throwback (think Animotion).
13. Slash Beautiful Dangerous I would not have thought Slash would go well with Fergie until I heard this.
14. The Blackjacks Queen Of The Night Local blues rock roughnecks.
15. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals Paris 3/12/11 9:30 Club If you haven’t heard this on the radio, you probably will soon.
16. The Rescues Break Me Out They got a lot of attention with their cover of Teenage Dream, but this song shows why the could be around for a while.
17. Middle Distance Runner The Sun & Earth Local faves and Herndon Festival vets. The best song on their new one.
18. The Verses Running Away Yet another Australian band, from the brother and sister that brought you Killing Heidi.
19. Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams Trans-Slambovian Bi-Polar Express The prog-rock-jam-band-hippie-good-time extravaganza returns.
20. Gaelic Storm Rum Runners 3/21-22/11 Ram’s Head For all you Great Big Sea fans.

Leftovers (in no particular order):
Alain Johannes – Return To You
Angus and Julia Stone – Big Jet Plane
Barenaked Ladies – You Run Away
Blitzen Trapper – Heaven And Earth
Coheed And Cambria – World Of Lines
Crooked Still – The Golden Vanity
Dum Dum Girls – Jail La La
Exit Clov – Kindest Creatures
Fistful Of Mercy – Fistful Of Mercy
Foxy Shazam – Bye Bye Symphony
Gomez – Little Pieces
Great Big Sea – Wandering Ways
Justin Jones – Little Fox
Lissie – Everywhere I Go
Liz Phair – Miss September
Local Natives – World News
Muse – Uprising
My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na
Red Molly – The Last Call
Robert Plant – Harm’s Swift Way
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Hanuman
Sara Bareilles – King Of Anything
Shawn Mullins – No Blue Sky
She & Him – Thieves
Steven Page – Indecision
The Decemberists – Down By The Water
The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
The Mynabirds – Numbers Don’t Lie
The Smashing Pumpkins – Freak
The Sword – How Heavy This Axe
These United States – Great Rivers
Visqueen – Hand Me Down


My work is generous and gives us 2 days off for Christmas, so mine started Wednesday night. We celebrated in the usual fashion, as Todd Wright hosted his annual Santa Clausterf*@k with a lot of area musicians. Since they don’t really rehearse, there were some trainwrecks, but overall a good show (and check out the TVs on stage, new this year).


Thursday I had reserved for shopping. I started off driving down the toll road towards Tysons Corner. My sister wanted an L.L. Bean gift certificate, but looking at the traffic on Route 7, I headed west instead of east (I got her an email one instead). I did need to stop at Wolf Trap to pick up some tickets for Dad, then it was off to Manassas. In addition to picking up some books for Jill, I needed to get my car checked out as the check engine light. It only needed a firmware upgrade, but I had to wait a while for that. Next stop was Fair Lakes, and by the time I finished there, I was done (both physically and mentally).

Friday both Jill and I were off, but busy. I had a bunch of bookcases to fill, and she had some baking to do. Our friends Melanie and Scott were hosting a Christmas Eve party so we joined them for a while. Saturday was Christmas and we both slept in, then cleaned up. I baked a ham and made two sauces (pineapple and mustard), Jill made potatoes au gratin and my mom, dad and sister were soon there to help us make a sizable dent in all the food. The gift giving went well, everyone got something they wanted, but soon everyone was on there way, and Jill knitted and I read in front of the fire.

Sunday we met our friend Patty for lunch at Pho 75 in Herndon. Jill was feeling under the weather and it hit the spot. I watched a Skins game that I actually enjoyed in the afternoon, then made a Hollandaise sauce and we had artichokes and Eggs Benedict for dinner. We finally had time to watch some TV together after dinner – the season finale of Burn Notice was good, and the Christmas episode of Doctor Who was brilliant (one shark open sleigh – LOL).

Early Christmas in Holyoke

We were initially thinking of going up for New Year’s, but the cruise nipped that in the bud. Jill still wanted to go visit around Christmas, and fares from Dulles weren’t too bad, so we headed up. It was an early morning on Saturday, at the airport before 7, so I rewarded myself with a Five Guys burger with an egg on it (’cause it’s breakfast). The flight was fine, and Jill’s mom and sister Robin picked us up at the Hartford airport. We stopped for a bit of shopping (and Robin and I witnessed a near fight over a parking space), then onto Holyoke. But not there for long, as we had lunch at Jill’s dad’s parent’s house with them, her dad and his wife. We exchanged gifts and caught up over the afternoon.

Meme and Pepes

We checked into our hotel room (we had been staying at Jill’s mom’s, but the smell of smoke is just too strong for me in the winter), then got ready for dinner and went to Northampton, where we met Melissa and Dominic at the The Eastside Grill. Jill wanted the ribeye, and I tried the Crispy Duck (it wasn’t that crispy, but the sauce had cranberries and triple sec in it and paired perfectly with a Cosmo). Dessert was good, my favorite was the blueberry carrot cake. After dinner we all went to Packard’s for a drink and ran into one of Jill’s cousins who’d visited us last year.

Sunday Jill’s mom served us Eggs Benedict for breakfast, then Dave and I went grocery shopping. Jill’s mom got to cooking and we tried to stay out from underfoot, I got some reading done. The nieces and nephews showed up a little after 3, then we set down to dinner: Pot roast and pork roast, both nicely cooked. Gifts were unwrapped after dinner (scored some Blu-rays and books), then we all drove to Easthampton for ice cream at Mt. Tom’s and candy for the kids. Back at the house Jill’s mom broke out the homemade carrot cake (I may had been full, but I still had some) and Robin made Chex mix as they watched Christmas specials and I read. Monday was even earlier then Saturday, up at 3:30 and at the airport by 5. But another easy flight and I was at work by 8 (I didn’t mind too much, only a 3 day workweek for me).


Thanksgiving to now

After we got back from our trip, things got a little busier (if that’s possible). We did make time on Sunday the 21st to take in the new Harry Potter film in IMAX (our tradition, the only bad thing was we wanted to see Part 2 right away), then it was only 3 days of work for me until I got two days off for Thanksgiving. We spent most of the day at Mom’s or getting ready for that (Jill made mashed potatoes, turnips and rutabagas while I sauteed green beans and made sweet potato butter). We brought home most of the leftovers (no one else wanted that much) and got several more meals out of it. The rest of the weekend I spent in the basement, slowly getting the place in order (and catching up on TV – really liked The Walking Dead).

The next Tuesday I went bowling with coworkers for the first time in about 20 years. It was… interesting. Two gutter balls, followed by a strike, and then another gutter ball for good measure. That was the most social I got over the next couple weeks, as we continued to unpack and clean up (I was mostly still in the basement). We got a tree on December 5th, at eight feet the tallest I’ve ever had. Of course there’s something off with its base, and it fell three times over the next couple weeks (luckily always while I was home).

We had our annual holiday party on Saturday, December 11th. Jill was not sold when we were planning, but she also put a lot of effort into making the house look nice. We’d had the floors refinished before we went on vacation, and we got both the dining room and living room furniture delivered right before the party. We decorated and prepped the food that Saturday, and I had just started the Christmas tunes when our first guests arrived. We had about 15 people show over the night – the new house definitely doesn’t feel as full with that amount of people. It was fun, and the food was good (it mostly disappeared), and then it was midnight and everyone was gone.

We worked so furiously to get ready we’ve been slacking off since, but next week the rest of the bookshelves should be arriving, and I’d like to get everything ready by Christmas day as we’ll be hosting my family this year. We had our first snow of the year yesterday, and it’s so cold Lake Thoreau has already mostly frozen (the geese sit on top of the ice, or this morning I saw them in the one unfrozen section in the middle of the lake).

New Zealand

On Tuesday the 16th our flight to Auckland was nice, had one of the nicest airplane meals ever (a roast beef salad). This will be important to not for the next flight…

When we got through customs, we caught the bus into the city and got off at the first regular stop, right next to The Langham, Auckland where we were staying. We checked in and dumped our stuff, then headed out. It was a bit of a walk, but Murder Burger sounded good to me. And I really enjoyed the jalapeno pesto on my Gourmet Beef Jalapeno, but Jill wasn’t fond of her Gourmet Beef Mushroom (at least we both liked the fries). We kept walking after we ate, and stopped at LiME Bar for some tasty cocktails.

On the walk back, I saw the Sports Center logo appear on the TV at a bar across the street and stopped to see if they’d show the MNF highlights. I only had to watch 30 seconds to know the Redskins had been blown out by the Eagles, and started walking again. We drowned our sorrows at The Winery when we returned to the The Langham. Jill said their nuts were the tastiest she ever had.

The next morning we headed over to Budget to rent a car. Somehow I ended up the driver, so I got a Corolla and we headed out. It was my first time driving on the wrong side of the road, and extremely nerve wracking at first. But soon we were on a highway headed south, and I got used to it (though sometimes would drift left onto the shoulder). Jill had picked up some pastries for breakfast, but we were son hungry and we stopped at the Kaimai Cheese Company when we saw it. We shared The Ploughmans Platter with their cheddar, Havarti and Camembert (the cheddar was the highlight), then got right back on the road.

We were hurrying to make a 2:30 tour at Hobbiton, and we made it with 30 minutes to spare and split a toasted cheese sandwich (odd that they didn’t have any signs on the road for it). Soon we were bouncing up and down a dirt road in a school bus, which took us straight to the set. Now this was someplace I wanted to go anywhere, but the timing really worked in our favor. After the films, they’d stripped the set and left nothing but white fronts on the hobbit holes.


But now that the prequels are a go, they’re busy recreating them, with five additional ones hobbit holes. Unfortunately no pictures online because I signed a confidentiality agreement (added back in after the movie release), but it all looks amazing. The attention to detail is incredible; our guide pointed out that lichen had been hand painted onto some of the wood. Here’s a taste:


After the tour, they had a sheep shearing. Ok, but we’d already seen one the previous week and used the facilities instead. We did come back for the baby lambs, as Jill had seen them earlier and wanted to feed one, so she did.


We headed back after that, as I wanted to avoid driving in the dark. I had made a reservation at Kermadec downtown overlooking the harbor, and it was really good (although service was so slow they comped our desserts). The kingfish carpaccio was a great starter, Jill loved her John Dory and I liked my duck, but my favorite part was the desserts, a number of variations on raspberry for me and chocolate for Jill (although the tobacco leaf on hers was iffy).


After dinner, we ended up heading into Minus 5, a bar where the temperature was 5 below 0 (Celsius), and all the furniture (and glasses) was made of ice. It was fun for a while (and if you explore through the photo gallery you’ll find another picture), but you get cold even with the supplied parkas (much like the weather in Virginia these days) and we were done for the evening.


The next day was Thursday the 18th – only two days left in our vacation. But I’d found a way to finish in style. First we checked out and I drove Jill downtown, then returned the car. We had breakfast at Number 1 Queen (I liked my breakfast pie, but Jill’s Rhubarb crumble was really good), then took the 1PM ferry over to Waiheke Island. We were staying at the Owhanake Bay Estate and Christy picked us up and dropped us in town (Oneroa) so we could have lunch. We decided on the Sand Bar, and shared a salad and a pizza, not bad (and the first pizza we’d had on vacation).

After lunch Christy picked us up again, and showed us around the estate. They have a vineyard (they bottle their own wine), an olive grove (for their own olive oil), and a number of other gardens. We relaxed on the deck and enjoyed the view (and free Wi-Fi, the first place beside Seth’s where it was free), then we had massages.

Owhanake Bay

That evening we arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to Mudbrick Restaurant. Also a vineyard, we got a bit of a sunset through the clouds as we ate. I had the lamb for dinner – the finest lamb of the trip. Our dessert that night was sharing the cheese selection – I don’t remember what we chose but they were mostly local and superb.


Friday we got breakfast on our deck, a nice full one (eggs, sausage, bacon etc) and a nice homemade chocolate pastry. Next we decided to walk along the shore, took a nice walk that started at the shore, went up at least half a mile then wound around back to the road. Fossil Bay has a lot of nice views along the path.

Fossil Bay

We also had lunch on our deck, as it was included in the package we got. It was an antipasto platter, notable for the local cheese and their own olive oil (remarkably different than the commercial stuff, you could really taste the olives). To work that off, we took another walk, this time to Cable Bay Vineyards and back to Mudbrick for wine tastings. We got a ride back as we were weighted down with wine after those two.

Cable Bay Vineyards

Our final dinner was at Te Whau – like Mudbrick, another restaurant with its own vineyard. The view was nice but the ambiance wasn’t as good as Mudbrick – happily the food was wonderful (I couldn’t resist more lamb, and Jill enjoyed the duck, and the fish cakes and goat’s cheese tart starters were good, not to mention the sticky toffee pudding). We didn’t get a sunset as clouds and drizzle rolled in, but it was still a nice view over the water.

Jill @ Te Whau

Saturday morning the 20th the drizzle had abated but our deck was wet, so we ate under cover near the pool. Much the same breakfast as before, except the chocolate pastry had raspberry in it. We packed up and took the ferry back to Auckland. We walked down several blocks to get to Brew On Quay. We had a number of pints of local beers (unfortunately the only Epic Beer they had were too hoppy for me for a pint) and lunch (open steak sandwich for Jill and beef satay skewers for me, both with fries and aioli) – my favorite beer was the Tuatara Ardennes.

Too soon we had to leave and get the bus to go to the airport. We found that though we had each had a free checked bag, including a third bag (full of wine) was considerably more expensive than we thought, then had a scare getting on our flight as the area we chose to sit wasn’t getting flight information updated properly and when Jill got suspicious she found our flight was on “final call” (still didn’t board for another 30 minutes, but we had to go through security again).

The flight back was pretty good. The food was horrendous – the “panko encrusted tuna” turned out to be the most foul smelling tuna casserole either of us had encountered and we both skipped it. But other than that our travel karma was good. On the flight out, we’d had to share our row with a huge lady (I mean 350 lbs at least), and we were rewarded on the way back with an empty seat in our row. I also paid for Economy Plus on the flight from LA to Dulles as the other choice for sitting together was the very last row in the back. But we got back fine, although it was a little weird to have left and arrived on Saturday night (love that International Date Line).

me @ Bilbo's

Australia Part Two: Sydney Redux

Thursday morning the 11th we flew back from Melbourne to Sydney. We once again took the subway to Circular Quay, then got a week long pass for the ferry and subway. The ferry to Manly Beach is mostly used by commuters during the week, but it’s a cheap way to see some of the best views.

Opera House

When we got to Manly, we went to the Wharf Bar and waited for our friend Seth. I’d worked with him in 2001-2002, met him in London in 2002, and he’d lived with me for six weeks in 2003. But he moved to Australia soon after and we hadn’t seen him since. We had a drink with him, then he showed us around Manly. His girlfriend Michelle had recently moved in, and she made a lovely dinner of chicken, asparagus and mashed potatoes.

It was an early night as early the next morning we did the bridge climb. We were both a little nervous at first, but they treat you like soldiers preparing for battle: you form a group, then there are stations where you get your gear, you test your gear, and finally get a pep talk before you go. The first part is walking on a catwalk, not too bad, but the second part on the ladders is nerve wracking. Being on the bridge itself is pretty fun, it’s really wide and you feel safe. We still were glad to get down, though.

Bridge climb

Our reward for our effort once we got back to Manly was fish and chips from the Manly Fish Market on the beach. We relaxed for a goo while after that. To thank Seth and Michelle for hosting, we wanted to take them to a really nice dinner, and decided on Rockpool. We were all pretty hungry (we had a late reservation), so we went with the tasting menu. It was some of the best food of the trip (wagyu rib eye, whisky sauce and pear sorbet yum) but marred by the cold breeze in the room we dined in.

Saturday the 13th Seth and Michelle made us breakfast, eggs with mushrooms, tomatoes and bacon. We went to Newtown in the afternoon for shopping, stopped at Urban Bites for a snack, then met up with Seth and Michelle and another couple for dinner at Arabella for sharing a lot of Lebanese food (the lamb shwarma was good, and the garlic sauce was the most garlic-y thing I’ve ever had. Next we went to the Enmore Theatre for a night of comedians. They were decent, but a number of their references went over our heads and we left before the end.

Sunday Seth and Michelle drove us out to the Koala Park Sanctuary. We had a quick lunch there before we went in (don’t order the sausage roll unless you want one hot from the microwave). Inside was really fun, pretty much like it was when I was there ten years ago. We saw the wombat, then headed to the kangaroos. We fed them and watched them hop around. We hooted at the koalas, saw the dingos, then came back to pet the koala they brought over. We finished up at the sheep shearing demonstration, and ended up chatting with the shearer for a while.


On the way back, we stopped in Mosman for a bit, and had ice cream on the beach. In Manly, we headed over to the 4 Pines Brewery for a pint, then went to the Sydney-side beach to meet up with Seth’s friends Al and Matt and their kids. After they left, we got picnic supplies, and Jill and Michelle got Indian takeaway from The Last Train To Bombay. We stuffed ourselves sharing a number of dishes (I really liked the Jungle Chicken).

Manly beach

Monday we were on our own and got breakfast at the Four Olives Deli in Manly (egg sandwich and pecan pie – guess who got what). I wanted to do the beach walk as they had just finished Sculpture by the Sea, but it was raining. We decided to tough it out and go anyway, so we took the subway to a bus to Bronte, then walked up the coast, watching the surfers and looking at the sculptures.


I thought there was a restaurant in Bondi we could eat at, but it wasn’t open then. We went back to Sydney and tried to go to another place I wanted to try, but it had just finished lunch. That wasok, as we went next door to Golden Sichuan for some tasty green beans with minced pork, pork and vegetable dumpling soup and steamed buns. We did a little more shopping before heading back.

We arrived at Circular Quay moments too late for the ferry, so we had a drink and waited for the next one. That evening we had dinner with Seth and Michelle at Garfish, where Jill had the salt & pepper squid and crisp fried zucchini flowers and I had the eastern lobster (similar to the Maine one, but not a match).

Tuesday the 16th we were out early as we had a morning flight. That didn’t do us much good as we had to sit in the terminal for nearly two hours waiting for them to resolve computer problems to check in to our flight, but soon we were headed to our next destination.

Sydney Harbor

Australia Part One: Sydney and Melbourne

We left Dulles at 4PM on November 5th, and arrived after 24 hours of traveling (and stopovers in San Francisco and Auckland) in Sydney at 8AM Sunday the 7th. We took the subway to Circular Quay, and walked over to the Four Seasons where we were staying that night. They let us check our luggage and (most importantly) grab a quick shower in their spa. Refreshed, we headed over to Darlinghurst via Subway. We got there too early for lunch, and wandered around the stores until enough time has passed.

Spice I Am was a delicious Thai place. Unfortunately no cocktails at lunch, but the food was worth it – I had duck, and Jill had a chicken and curry with two types of eggplant. When we returned to Circular Quay, we wandered around The Rocks and stopped at The Australian Hotel for beers.

Hotel view

That evening, Jill enjoyed a massage and pedicure while I headed to the nearby Opera House to see the 2010 ARIA Awards (basically their version of the Grammys). It was GA, so as soon as I picked up my ticket at will call, I headed over to the back of a very long line. I still got a decent spot near the stage, and soon they were doing a concert before the show. Not bad, but the real talent was to come. Opening the Arias was Powderfinger, whom I’d seen on their only US tour, still excellent. My favorite new act and live performance was Birds Of Tokyo, though Washington put on quite an extravaganza. It was also nice to see INXS (fronted by bluesy Dan Sultan)


The next morning it was back to the airport and a lovely Eggs Benedict at the Tap House before the short flight to Melbourne. We took a bus from the airport to the city center, then subway and a tram to The Blackman, a charming hotel with Alice In Wonderland themed art by Charles Blackman.

After we relaxed a little, we went down the road in the afternoon to the Belgian Beer Cafe Bluestone where we enjoyed some beers and split a Croque Monsieur with the best fries of the trip (and house made aioli). We kept going south and got off the tram in St. Kilda, a lovely beach town. We wandered down the boardwalk on the beach, stopping for drinks at Republica and enjoyed the view.

St. Kilda

We walked back into town, found a bookstore and started looking for dinner. The menu at The Table rang our bells, and it was very good, followed by ice cream from the Cold Rock Creamery (where we mixed in strange Australian candy) that we took back to the beach to watch the sunset.


Tuesday the 9th we had breakfast at Fleur Depot De Pain in the hotel (quiche for Jill, egg sandwich for me), then headed north to find the Ugg factory. It wasn’t in the nicest part of town, and the outlet was there (once we got past the surly factory worker). Jill not only found a pair of boots she liked, but a very nice pea coat. We stopped by some book and record stores up there, then back to the center of town where we had a plate of tapas at Young And Jacksons (I really liked the duck shanks with a sweet soy and orange glaze).

We had pretty much the only guide book failure of the trip which told us to eat dinner at Donovans in St. Kilda and enjoy the sunset. First, you can’t sit outside during your meal, second they only open the blinds at sunset, third we didn’t have a very good table, and finally Jill didn’t enjoy her meal (linguine with seafood, though I really enjoyed my pork platter with pork four ways).

Wednesday was our last full day in Melbourne, and we spent it mostly shopping. We headed over to Fitzroy, the hipster area. Breakfast at Birdman Eating was tasty, the Baked Eggs of the Day were served with lentils and tomatoes, and the banana bread with Nutella and the house made crumpets with leatherwood honey were very good. My favorite place to shop was the very first place I went, Dixons Recycled with lots of good (and cheap) CDs. But we hit a number of yarn, book and record shops over the day. We stopped at Threshermans Bakehouse on the way back for a quick snack (Jill had a curry chicken pastry).

That night we ate at MoVida Aqui for the best meal we had in Melbourne. It was a tapas place, and everything was excellent. In fact, I’m just going to list everything we had:
Bomba Catalan: Potato bomb filled with chorizo
Bocadillo de calamares: Calamari sandwich with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise
Esparragos: Charcoal grilled green asparagus with romesco
Vieira: Scallops grilled with jamon on pisto, braised manchego style vegetables
Buey: Roast Beef wagyu with tocino de cielo, potato crisps, pickled garlic and black garlic
Butifarra: Housemade Catalan pork and pepper sausage with braised black beans and piquillo peppers
roast pork
Churros con Chocolate: Spanish doughnuts with rich drinking chocolate

We stopped and looked at department store Christmas displays after dinner. So strange to be so warm and thinking about the holidays.

Department store window

Thursday morning the 11th we again had breakfast at Fleur Depot De Pain (more Eggs Benedict), then checked out and headed to the airport. We had lunch there at P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub, where Jill who had been craving a hamburger got some kind of meatloaf sandwich they tried to top with a slice of beet (I wisely opted for the corned beef and potatoes).