Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review Crew: Next to Normal

When my husband and I saw “Next to Normal” on Broadway in 2009, we both left the theater feeling emotionally exhausted. The end of the first act alone had me in tears. The masterfully layered tension that built through both acts lingered within me as we emerged into the sudden darkness of New York City on a summer evening. I felt stirred and heartbroken. And I also felt proud.

The pride came from knowing that I had just witnessed a groundbreaking piece of American theater, and I had seen a master at work in Alice Ripley as the show’s psychologically tormented lead. I held onto every pained expression. Every single moment of discomfort. When Ripley’s Diana tries to comfort her spurned teenage daughter Natalie, only able to say “I love you as much as I can,” I wince. Every time I hear it, I just freeze. The way Ripley’s voice breaks, the way she can’t fix the way she feels, the way she doesn’t understand she shouldn’t have to try to love her daughter. It’s heartbreaking. Alice Ripley moved me. Jennifer Damiano moved me. “Next to Normal” instantly became one of my favorite musicals because of Ripley’s performance. She pours every ounce of her energy into this role.

With that being said, with all of my appreciation for Ms. Ripley--an immensely talented woman with local roots--out and on the table, I don’t think the show is hers anymore.

Last night at the Palace Theater, Ms. Ripley’s voice was an aching strain. Performing in such a vocally and emotionally demanding role for so long seems to have finally taken its toll on the show’s star. I didn’t want her to have to sing last night. And it didn’t seem like she wanted to either, pulling back during ensemble numbers. The beautiful and dense rock-inspired score by Tom Kitt is electrified and vibrant. It asks as much of its performers as this musical asks of its audience. Last night Ripley seemed like she had nothing more to give.

This is not to say that the musical was any less powerful in my eyes. But for newcomers experiencing this difficult and complex musical for the first time, I felt that allowing Ripley to go on was a major disservice. Yes, I was at the season announcement last spring. Yes, I almost squealed when Gina Vernaci revealed that Alice Ripley would tour with the show. But last night, when I heard some rude women lambasting Ripley’s voice and using that as fodder to dismiss the entire musical, I felt angry and disappointed. I felt ownership of the musical. I wanted to tell them to shut up, but they did have a point, didn’t they?

Perhaps Ripley was having an off night. Perhaps my desire for her to move on is unjustified. I absolutely don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing this beautiful musical, because it really does mean that much to me. I want to share it. But I also don’t want to have to make excuses for it.

Aside from Ripley, this production is gorgeous. The set remains the same, with the piercing Gestalt lighting, the cold, tired hovering eyes, the dramatic and stark colored lighting. When the walls of the family’s home finally turn out to reveal these unfeeling eyes, it’s a powerful moment. I’d love to write a whole piece on the lighting and set.

Sitting on the left side of the house, the energy of the rock orchestra was palpable, if a little muted at points. This music is thrilling, seamlessly integrated with the dialogue, and constantly pushing its performers to give everything they have.

As Natalie, Emma Hunton shines. She brings a believable and youthful energy to the show, while making Natalie an even bolder, stronger character. Her voice is immaculate. Her love interest Henry, played by Preston Sadleir, came off a little fey in his first scene, but eventually relaxed into a comfortable shrugging teenage stoner.

In this production, son Gabe seems oddly sexualized, thrusting his hips against set pieces, leering at Diana and the others, and adding an unnecessary element to the production. If Gabe is supposed to be an imagined perfect son, why does he seem so malicious? It’s an odd choice. Especially after seeing Aaron Tveit play the quintessential golden boy in the Broadway production, this touring Gabe seems more like a rapacious Puck.

Asa Somers has it hard as Dan, the quiet, unassuming husband who walks on eggshells to keep his family from falling apart. The challenge of this role is to bring not only pity, but sympathy. Somers succeeds to this end. His falsetto broke a few times in the second act, but none of these hiccups rendered his performance ineffective.

This is an important musical. I can’t say that enough. Yes, it demands so much of its audience. It’s difficult, it’s uncomfortable at times, and it forces viewers to consider mental illness without any sugar-coating. It’s not an after-school special. But at the end of the musical, those lucky enough to see it and be open to its message will leave feeling touched, challenged, and ultimately rewarded for having seen something real and truly human. It’s a remarkable feeling to leave a theater tired and full of pain and hope and appreciation. “Next To Normal” can give you all of these things if you’ll open your mind and let it.

Disclosure: As a member of PlayhouseSquare's Review Crew, I was given two complimentary tickets to the opening night production.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

IX International Beer Fest

I'll admit, I was skeptical of the IX Center's proposed International Beer Fest from the start. I just wasn't sure if they had enough support from good breweries and distributors to pull it off. Could it be as exciting or unique as any of Cleveland Beer Week's events? Would I feel the thrill I felt when my husband and I raced to Winking Lizard in Lakewood to sample Troeg Brewery's Scratch and Splinter series, a set of beers we'll likely never get to taste again? I had my doubts.

Still, after the initial announcement, the festival began to generate some good buzz and endorsement from local powerhouses like Great Lakes Brewing Company. I became a little hopeful, but I didn't want to shell out the money for a ticket, knowing that this was a very ambitious festival in its first year that could very well turn out to be a disappointment. So I signed up as a volunteer, as did my husband.

First, volunteers get very little for their assistance. Originally, all we were promised was a t-shirt, tasting glass, and a subscription to Draft magazine (the third was only given to volunteers who worked two sessions). We were not supposed to drink during our shifts, which pretty much means that we weren't allowed to drink at all unless we bought tickets to the shift we weren't volunteering for. Compare this to something like the Cleveland International Film Festival where volunteers enjoy two film vouchers for every shift they work, and this seems like a raw deal.

Originally, I didn't care that I wasn't getting much. I was honestly just excited to volunteer for a beer-centric event. I love beer, and I love talking to people. Pouring at the International Beer Fest would fulfill both.

Volunteers received minimal training. Before Friday's only session, I donned my ugly (yes, I said it--they need to bring in a brand consultant or something) oversized t-shirt and went to the Ohio station where I was assigned. I was so glad that I got to work this section, since I have good relationships with quite a few of the local brewers and I knew that they'd all be there to represent their product with pride. I had a good time working at Wooden Shoe Brewery from Minster, Ohio. But before the session the only instruction we were given was to pour to the logo on the glass, and no higher. If someone seemed "visibly intoxicated", we were to refuse them a pour. But our trainer did not explain how to handle this situation or who to call over if someone became beligerent. We were not given bottle openers. This was fine for me, because my brewer had a draft system set up. We were also not given rinse pitchers or dump buckets. I could not find my supervisor in time to get one, so I ended up taking supplies from the Stella Artois booth, which was way overstocked.

Because I was the only volunteer at my stand, I was not allowed to leave, since the brewers were legally not allowed to pour beer for patrons. Fortunately, exceptions were made near the end of the evening so I was able to walk around for a minute.

Throughout the evening, I saw a lot of friends. Local bloggers, brewers, and beer fans. The brewers in my row were kind enough to share samples with me while I poured. In the end, I left feeling pretty positive, but concerned that the next day's volunteers would run into the same problems I did.

On Saturday afternoon's shift, all of the volunteers got screamed at and then headed to their sections. I got assigned to Asia with my husband. Lucky us. None of our beers were set up. Instead, all of the volunteers had to crowd around a walk in cooler trailer and dig for number-coded cases of beer. It was an absolute mess, not to mention depressing. I tried to flag down an IX Center employee on a golf cart, but he seemed unwilling to send someone over to clean it up. One volunteer dropped an entire case of beer and it shattered all over the floor. Another placed a case of Nøgne ø beer at the Young's stand so my husband and I moved it to the right place (by the way, the Young's beers never arrived). I ended up standing back and waiting for the beers to show up at my table. All of the other volunteers in my section were new. They literally received NO training, other than being told not to pour over the line on the glass. We had no bottle openers and were serving bottled beer. Luckily, all the folks in my section were hardcore beer lovers (and really cool people) so we all had bottle opener key chains. I gave everyone a crash course and we all began looking up information on the beers we were pouring.

We were supposed to have two Indian lagers and two Indian pilsners at our table, but all of the Flying Horse beer was killed the night before. Of course, that was the beer everyone wanted. The distributor showed up eventually and we told him we were out. He tried to get more in by the end of the session, but that didn't work out.

When we were setting up, we told our volunteer coordinator that we would like rinse pitchers, he said nobody would want them because "the serious beer drinkers came last night" and that today's guests "wouldn't care." Yeah right. My response was, "what if they do want to rinse their glasses?" He just walked away. Nice. So somebody who finishes a frothy chocolate stout will just come up to our table with a foam soaked glass and get a nice crisp Indian pilsner poured into it and not care that it's a muddled, nasty mess. People paid enough to get in. They deserve respect.

Speaking of respect, IX Center hired some scrawny, hot girls to walk around in super-short white shorts and high heels. They handed out maps. Everyone thought it was a joke. Nothing gives more credibility to your International beer event than a bunch of tarted up white girls sauntering around smiling vapidly.

Actually, a lot of the event screamed sexism. The fact that a small size t-shirt wasn't even an option seemed to totally dismiss the idea that a young, fit woman would want to be a volunteer. One male volunteer told me he was surprised that a young lady like me enjoyed beer so much. Then my husband and I went up to a table were two guys were selling oak casks and the salesmen completely ignored me and insisted on only interacting with my husband, who they charmingly (not) called "buddy." A couple of brewery reps made fools of themselves by encouraging drunken women to hang all over each other at their stand on Friday night. Gross.

My main complaint after all of this is that the main floor was nothing special. When our stand ran out of beer on Saturday's first shift (yeah, that actually happened, and I feel sorry for people who came second shift if they couldn't get more), my husband and I walked around and saw everything there was to see. Other than Pizza Port (which I was SO happy to sample), there were no other beers that I couldn't get somewhere else. All of the "Beer Fest Exclusives" were in VIP, and even most of those have been or will be available locally. The Real Ale bar was pretty neat, and I definitely enjoyed both beers I sampled there, but other than that, I was just not impressed.

So I guess instead of continuing this rant, I'll make a list of things that IX Center should do to improve next year. And yes, I will be sending these their way so I have something more to look forward to if IX International Beer Fest returns (which I really hope happens, honestly. It would be great for the city).

  1. Train volunteers. Not just on rules, but on the beer. Even if the distributor just leaves a notecard for each beer, it will be an improvement. I was amazed at how little some pourers knew. My husband asked what beer they were serving at a cooking demonstration, and the volunteer responded with some attitude, "it's beer." Although it was nice to feel like a rock star volunteer by comparison for knowing about the beer we were serving. People actually did respond very positively when we answered their questions, and expressed their frustration with some other clueless volunteers. So yes, training matters.
  2. Make volunteer coordinators/security guards more accessible. We have a ton of people drinking a ton of beer. Things happen. Volunteers and patrons need to know who to go to for help.
  3. Have everyone who leaves pass a breathalizer test. Seriously, I was scared to leave on Friday night after witnessing all of the stumbling and rowdy behavior. If people aren't sober, they should be allowed to wait in a lounge and sober up with water and pretzels or something. It's a small price to pay for safety.
  4. Quit with the "eye candy." It's embarrassing. I was offended as a woman working the festival. And seriously, why wouldn't you offer a small t-shirt? One of the only things I got out of volunteering is something I'll never wear again.
  5. Allow patrons to buy tickets ala carte. Maybe the government won't allow this. I don't know. But if people want to come in and buy a pack of ten tickets at the door, you should let them. This might prevent the huge mass exodus at the end of each session, allowing security to make sure everyone's fit to leave instead of getting overwhelmed and corralling people.
  6. One ounce pours are more than enough. I know this concession was probably made because people were mad about having their pours limited to 30 (which is absurd to me), but next year, stick with one ounce.
  7. Have some entertainment. I felt like I was at a business convention the whole time. Even if it's a crappy cover band, at least it would feel like more of an event.
  8. Have the distributors handle their product, not the volunteers. Have the beer placed before each session. Set people up for success.
  9. Give each table two bottle openers and enough pitchers and dump buckets to keep up with the flow. Why not give volunteers a bottle opener as a gift along with the shirt?
  10. Have the breweries and distributors provide materials on each beer so volunteers don't have to rely on smart phones or guess work if they're not familiar with the product. Printing a guide with a short description of each beer on it would be ideal. Patrons should at the very least know the style and ABV of every beer they drink.

So there it is. The perspective of a Beer Fest volunteer who didn't make it into the VIP area and didn't really sample anything she hadn't had before (except for Pizza Port's selections, which were pretty awesome).

My bottom line is, treat drinkers, brewers, and pourers with respect. I wasn't feeling the love, and neither was my husband. Maybe next year.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

West Side Story at PlayhouseSquare

Review Crew Reviews: West Side Story from PlayhouseSquare on Vimeo.

When it comes to film, the word “remake” always makes me cringe. By definition, a classic is considered a classic when it has garnered and maintained acclaim and adoration over time. It remains relevant. It grows with its audience. It gains weight with each visit.

“West Side Story” is a classic, untouchable work of art. For this reason, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to view it again as part of PlayhouseSquare’s Review Crew. I’ve seen the musical at least a half-dozen times (a full dozen if you count the film) and I have fond memories of listening to the original cast recording on cassette in my mother’s Ford Tempo. I grew up with this music. I very inappropriately (and unwittingly) performed “Gee, Officer Krupke”, at family gatherings when I was five years old. The music was a part of me, even as a kid.

And now in the revival, Arthur Laurents, the very man who gave me the words I memorized and regurgitated as a child, revisits and revamps his original work. Adding further emotional weight to my viewing of his work, we lost Mister Laurents just two days after I viewed the final revision of his own masterpiece.

The major change in this production is the addition of Spanish dialogue, translated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the dynamic contemporary musical “In the Heights.” Is this a welcome change? I was never totally sold. Changes to both the book and libretto seem forced, especially when communicated by actors who haven’t yet effectively mastered the Puerto Rican accent.

If anything, the addition of Spanish dialogue creates an even more extreme rift between the Puerto Rican Sharks and second generation American Jets. It’s a rift that feels uncomfortable, even for someone like me who speaks a limited amount of Spanish. Some of my peers felt downright alienated, especially when the lyrics they’ve come to love were performed in a foreign language. For better or worse, the battle between “us” and “them” becomes much more pronounced when we aren’t speaking the same language. While the original musical challenges the audience question who is in the right in this tragic turf war (if anyone), this incarnation seems to force its audience to choose a side—the side they can understand.

To a seasoned audience, an audience that’s familiar with the original work, this change may be inconsequential. But this translation isn’t an aesthetic stylization you might see in a new production of “Romeo & Juliet” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This is a war with words. In passing, the Sharks murmur asides to each other in Spanish and it adds an element of realism to the production. But when Maria sings “I Feel Pretty” in Spanish, thre’s something missing. And how important is this kind of realism in a production where tough thugs pirouette with switchblades?

Also missing is the sex, the fire, the adolescent angst that we need to feel between Maria and Tony. At the school dance I grow anxious during the chaperone’s “abstinence” diatribe. Just let the crazy kids mambo, already! When they do, it’s hot. Is there romance? Yes. But the romance between Maria and Tony feels more like a planned anniversary date than a frantic, heart-wrenching formative encounter. Even the fiery Anita is incapable of adding tension and judgment to this romance, making it seem inconsequential.

There are elements of West Side Story that remain timeless, and these elements are gorgeously executed. The full orchestra at PlayhouseSquare brings the dynamic, lush, and at times dissonant score to life. While “Something’s Coming” feels rushed, the rest of the music is perfection. The choreography is stunning, even after all this time.

The revival of “West Side Story” gives us a new cultural perspective. But do we need it? Is the original message of the musical lost in translation? Probably not. But it might just be unnecessarily complicated.

Disclosure: As a member of PlayhouseSquare's Review Crew, I received two complimentary tickets to this production.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Robert Burns Night

I knew nothing of Robert Burns night when I stumbled into Cornerstone Brewing Company after a sloppy petting session during my junior year of college. My boyfriend and I giddily slipped through the back entrance of the brewery and spotted one of my favorite professors hunched over the bar with a backpack, a book, and a tiny plate of meat. "It's Robert Burns night and there's free haggis", he told us, suggesting that we should get some before it ran out. But we were too late. The room was nearly empty, with evidence of some prior fracas peppered about: too many plates waiting to be bussed, tables arranged in impractically claustrophobic fashion, overtired waiters looking uncomfortable in kilts. Defeated, we nestled up to the bar, determined to make something out of this lost evening. We each ordered a pint of Cornerstone's freshly tapped scotch ale, the Rowan. A caramel-colored malty ale with touches of toffee and a smooth finish. A reason to return next year. Which we did. Again and again.

There was one year where, powered by 16-year scotch and happy hour priced pints of the 7.7% Rowan, I kissed and cuddled up to my entire party of eight close buddies. Yes, it was my senior year of college. Yes, I was wistful. I'd made it through January to the great Scot poet's birthday once again. It might be the last time I'd see some of these people. I was amorous. I was a little insane. I stomped my booted foot on the wooden floor as the Black Bear of Caledonia Pipe Band piped in a giant haggis in grand fashion, twirling heavy drumsticks, blowing "Amazing Grace" into the high-ceilinged brick building with precision and passion. I read along in my best Scottish accent as the host of the festivities performed Burns' "Address to a Haggis" with such confidence and vigor, that you'd think he wrote it himself. I'm not Scottish in the least. I wear a Scotland pin on the breast of my coat because it was a lovely gift from a friend who studied abroad, and because I like the way it looks. Becoming so invested in the birthday festivities of Scotland's great poet was just a way to feel connected to culture, to literature, to the beautiful like-minded group of people I called my friends.

One year when I was out of college and still living with my parents we opted to get a cheap room at the Red Roof Inn in Berea so we wouldn't need to drive anywhere. It had an elevator with fake wood paneling and yellowed drop lighting. I was thrilled to be there. I have a way of romanticizing hotel stays. Scratchy comforters, wrapped soaps, and crappy abstract art haven't been ruined for me, even after business travel and years of experience. I still love sleeping in a prepared room. So this Robert Burns night could have been something special. And, alright, it was--they all are. But I remember coming back to the hotel after an evening of music and laughter and free meat and friend pickles and just feeling the oppressive weight of 14-year Oban scotch throwing me onto the bed and into a dizzying half-sleep. I don't even remember getting a kiss goodnight.

I think last night was my fifth Robert Burns night at Cornerstone. I don't remember missing one. I just know that it's the thing we do every year. Maybe all of the events I've recounted happened on the same Robert Burns night. Every year there's a haggis. Last year it was oily. This year it had a particularly herby taste to it and the texture of Mom's meatloaf. One year we got cheap scotch for our boisterous table. One year it was just me and my husband sipping Rowan in a near-empty room. The bagpipers come back every year like they're the only bookable Scottish band in Ohio. They tune and warm up in the brewery with the heavy metal door shut tight, and still the wailing nasally sounds of the pipes drift through the restaurant, eliciting confused looks from the regular dinner crowd, and hearty pint hoists from me and my fellow Burns buddies. We're happy because the beer just got tapped and it's delicious and 7.7%, and we're happy because we have something to come back to.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blue Man Group, PlayhouseSquare

In a revelatory moment during Blue Man Group's opening number on Tuesday at PlayhouseSquare's Palace Theatre, I realized that the whirling sound I heard was not emanating from a brush circling a snare or a synthesized sound effect loop, but a long, curved PVC pipe whipping steadily in a circular path carved in the air by a stoic man in blueface.

Even after a disappointing thirty minute curtain delay, that's all it took for me to suspend my impatience and immerse myself in this aural wonderland being created before my eyes with mallets and PVC pipe.

Before this production, I had only seen Blue Man Group in television clips and heavily referenced on one of my favorite television shows, "Arrested Development". In my mind, theirs was a show that businessmen in New York and Vegas took their visiting clients to in order to appear cool and trendy. I clearly underestimated them.

Watching the Blue Man Group is part science fair, part screwball comedy, and part rave, but one element remains consistent throughout: the childlike wonder and humor of these three versatile performers are limitess. As musicians, they've mastered the art of innovation, creating impressive homemade instruments that form unique sounds. Blue Man instruments look like they belong in the world of Dr. Seuss, especially in day-glo paint. As comedians, they're deadpan experts.

The Blue Men are strongest when they're satirizing. With an oversized interactive iPad (the GiPad, as they call it), they both lampoon technology and embrace it. For as much as they parodied the overuse of modern technology during this new stage show, they masterfully used it to their advantage, sending a camera crew into the audience to capture live crowd reactions and projecting digital stick figures onto huge hanging screens. Even the curtain warmer consisted of two LED screens commanding audience participation with a healthy amount of snark. I think that most people in the audience could have just sat and watched those text scrolls for a good hour before the show actually started.

In Tuesday's show, which ran without an intermission, BMG cleverly summarized classic literature on their huge "GiPads", performed a clever Duck Soup mirror scene tribute using video screens, hoisted an audience member onstage for a Twinkie dinner, and made neon paint erupt into each others' faces from atop huge drum heads.

One particular gag consisted of a Blue Man firing paintballs into another's mouth, and marshmallows into the third Blue Man's mouth. From this, a clever commentary on the commercialization of art emerged, as one Blue man created a spirograph-style splatter painting by spitting on his canvas while spinning it and generously bestowed it upon an audience member in the front row. The other Blue Man spat his dozen or more marshmallows out into a creepily phallic form and hung a price tag of $5,000 dollars in front of it. At the end of the bit he appeared to hand the sculpture to somebody in the front row as if to say, "nevermind the price tag. Our art is for everybody."

This seems to be the point of Blue Man Group. Focused on innovation, education, and booty-shaking fun, these alien oddballs don't aim to alienate everybody, but rather to engage all with their antics. I had a blast. My only issue with the BMG was that their audience participation segments completely took me out of the strange world they were building in front of me on stage. I didn't want to remember that I was amongst a crowd of normal people. I just wanted to immerse myself in Blue World and watch the boys who do it best. And this might just be a personal hang-up, but when somebody tells me to stand up and shake my booty (or my "Dinner With Andre" as they referred to it at one point), I tend to resist. But observing all of the weeknight theater goers dancing in their assigned rows at the Palace Theatre only made me wonder how different it would be to see BMG perform at Astor Place Theater, as they originally did.

Still, it was cool of them to bring their geek-friendly percussive performance art to Cleveland. It's a good time for young and old. Just remember: when Blue Man Group tells you to shake your booty, it's best to just go with it and abide.

For dates and tickets, visit:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Denver Day 4: Tulo!

Breckenridge Brewery served us an insane brunch. Their western-Mexican culinary flair manifested itself in spicy queso egg bakes, creamy chorizo gravy over biscuits, seasoned homefries with bell peppers and onions, bacon, and delicious green grapes coated in yogurt and drizzled with the same agave nectar that's used in their famous Agave Wheat.

With my breakfast, I threw back a surprisingly hoppy and subtly spiced saison that I probably won't ever taste again. Their brown ale was also quite good. In Cleveland, we are never far from Breckendridge's oatmeal stout, Avalanche amber, and vanilla porter. It was cool to sample some different non-flagship beers from the 'ridge.

Another thing I respect about the Breckenridge brew pub is that they are a barbecue restaurant. Most of the brewpubs we visited (if not all of them) offered the same mix of ethnic sausage platters, pizzas, beer cheese soup, and burgers. Seeing a pub that specializes in something different different was refreshing.

After our Breck tour, we somehow ended up getting a private tour of Great Divide outside of regular business hours.

Great Divide's pub is tiny. Our group of 30 stifled all natural movement and filled the place with hot breath and noise. It wasn't until our group split in half for tours that I noticed the cool handmade wooden boxes filled with found objects hanging on the walls. I instantly fell in love with the Hoss, a rye lager branded with a label like a Woolrich jacket. My smoked baltic porter was also a treat.

The tour was brisk, but interesting. The guide, like the others, assumed that we were already familiar with the brewing process and instead concentrated on the history of the brewery and pub, which was once a milk bottling plant. He explained how Great Divide received a grant to build their brewpub in this vacant and somewhat depressed area, as they promised jobs, environmental stewardship, and tourism. For as much as these smaller breweries teased New Belgium for its in-your-face touchy-feely mission statements, they all kind of do the same, with just a little more subtlety and a healthy dose of self-awareness.

On our last day of organized brewery touring, James and I scored two tickets to the would-be sellout Rockies/Giants game at Coors Field. Sated by a coal-fired veggie pizza, we hiked up the steps to our seats, located above the purple row of seats that marks a mile above sea level.

On that night, the Rockies were still playoff contenders, though their hopes have pretty much been dashed since. Early in the game a foul ball sliced into the stands and the stadium heaved a collective gasp. I laughed and noted to James that this was a pretty dramatic, reactive crowd before realizing that it has been so long since I attended a sold-out baseball game. The last Indians game I attended had only 6,000 other attendants. In a crowd like that, you don't get that grand reaction. You hear individual conversations float lazily over rows of empty seats. From the right spots you can hear the guys in the press box announcing for radio.
It was in that moment of sonic unity that I became invested in this game. The stakes were tangible. I rose excitedly for every base hit. I slammed my fist against the armrest when the starting pitcher got lit up in his first few innings. I high-fived the big dude next to me who was kind enough to share his giant bag of peanuts, so long as we agree to tolerate his newlywed jokes.

We watched the rest of the game after the fifth from various walkways throughout Coors Field and happily stayed to holler and high-five when the game came down to a thrilling play at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the tenth. This kind of win in the cold thin September air always takes me back to the golden years at Jacobs field. October baseball felt close again at Coors Field. It broke my heart to think of returning home to the losing team I call mine, but for that one night I got to hang my hopes on somebody else's hometeam. I hope it wasn't my Clevelander aura that jinxed them when we packed up and left town after that big win, four games behind in the wildcard race.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Denver Day 3: Business Time

Our three-brewery excursion exhausted us. We woke with dry mouths and nagging headaches which would only be quelled by a rigorous morning workout and several cups of tap water.

Working out at this elevation is humbling. Just shuffling on an elliptical with little resistance for a mile was taxing. I took shallow and unfulfilling breaths. Still, to commit to working out while slightly hung over and still jet lagged gave me a burst of positivity that I carried with me on the bus to Boulder.

James and I were nuts enough to crack open a beer on the way to more beer. We shared a crisp, malty blonde sharply packaged in an aluminum can by Ska Brewing Company. As we polished off our can and turned our eyes forward, we were overwhelmed by the beautiful severity of the Rocky Mountains beyond the bus' dashboard. We were driving into those mountains, or they were about to consume us. Either way, the view was impressive. We wondered about the scattered lodges and houses built onto the sides of the mountain range. Recalling Colorado's recent brush fires added drama to the scene.

A skankin' good brew

Boulder Brewing Company stands at the feet of the Rockies. The door at the loading dock rolls up to reveal the snow-crested mountains. When we first arrived at the scene we were greeted with an outdoor beer garden picnic, complete with centerpieces and decorative hop vine garlands. The grillmaster hooked his iPod up to a portable stereo and we all received a pint of our choice to as a party favor. I opted for the Buffalo Gold, a golden ale that I've never seen in Ohio, even though it's been a staple at Colorado's first microbrewery since 1989.

If I worked at this brewery I'd keep the door open year-round

Our tour guide, affectionately dubbed Chicken Dan for reasons less interesting than the nickname itself, was goofy, sarcastic, wily, and endlessly entertaining. He led the tour in Willy Wonka fashion, madly gesturing towards various brewhouse elements with a long metal keg rod. His humor and vibrancy set this tour apart from the others. You can only see so many towering fermentors and bottling lines before they all start to look the same.

Chicken Dan and his pole

One anecdote that I fondly recall from Dan's tour is that Boulder Brewing Company started in a goat shed. For this reason, Boulder decorates its mug club mugs and pub walls with goats.

Our picnic at Boulder consisted of grilled burgers, brats, and hot dogs with a delicious potato salad and chips. I gave the vegetarian barley burger a shot, and it was delicious. The best beer I tasted on our trip (or one of them) was Boulder's dark mild English ale, named Business Time. This flavorful well-balanced session beer was fresh off a gold medal win at last week's Great American Beer Festival. The brew was so named because its low alcohol content makes it a manageable lunch hour beer, but when the marketing folks got a hold of it they turned the name into a Flight of the Conchords reference. Because James removed my garter to this song at our wedding, a marketing guy printed us two limited edition posters for the beer on excellent stock for no cost.

Sampling toasted malt gave us a great idea for a new cereal

The tour of Avery Brewing was fast and unremarkable, though our guide was personable enough. I think he knew we were already familiar with the brewing process and just wanted to get us to the good stuff: the beer. Avery is oddly located in an industrial park, so even though the pub itself is comfortable, it's tucked away in a place that I would probably avoid on weekends if I were a local. But again, the beer is what's important, and Avery does a fine job creating delicious small-batch treats. Some standouts included the casked sour ale (tapped by a tough dude with a sledgehammer!) and a passionfruit wheat beer unlike anything I've ever tasted. We spent some time playing with two retrievers hanging around the brewery and took home free branded glasses.

Tap that sour!

After two straight days of consuming nothing but beer, my new husband and I required a different kind of refreshment and some time away from the throng. For cocktails, the concierge recommended the Brown Palace, Colorado's oldest hotel, conveniently located a block away.

We were not prepared for the elegance and classic opulence of this hotel. Marble, onyx, carved wood, disarming high-ceilinged beauty. Our footsteps patted against the floor and their echoes hung importantly in the air. We were walking towards the Churchill Room, a cigar bar that James noted was probably once meant to be enjoyed by men only. For whatever reason, I found this to be dreadfully romantic. I ordered a Manhattan, which arrived in halves: one in a martini glass and the other in a shot glass placed in the center of a small, shallow bundt-shaped pan of ice. This perplexed me and I felt like a rube until our waitress assured us that this serving method was a Brown Palace exclusive.

James and I traded puffs of a mild cigar and he shared the muddled cherries from his old fashioned. Yes, we capped a day of drinking with more drinking. But being in a dark oaky room with James and looking into his eyes through the cigar smoke that rolled fluidly from his lips made me realize why we are doing this thing together and I felt overwhelmingly in love in that room.

Our beer tour friends let us snuggle in the throne at Avery