Thursday, December 18, 2008
Larry Stephenson Band
Bluegrass FM is sponsoring a concert series of top notch bluegrass acts at Massaponax High School. December’s concert on the 6th opened with Balsam Range, a band we were unfamiliar with, but that had excellent musicians that we enjoyed very much. The headliner was the Larry Stephenson Band. I’ve seen Larry in concert in the old days with Bill Harrell and the Virginians, and with the Bluegrass Cardinals, but this was the first time I’d seen his own band perform. Larry’s group plays in pretty traditional bluegrass style, with Larry’s high tenor voice taking the lead on every number. I like the high tenor voice, so this suits me fine. (Not my photo, by the way)
The next concert will be Jan. 10, and will feature Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice, and Kenny & Amanda Smith. I’m not familiar with either group, but the concerts are free (just call the station for free tickets in advance), and there isn’t a bad seat in the house, so you might want to check it out.
St. George Voices at the Griffin
Last Sunday afternoon, I went to the Griffin Bookstore downtown to hear the St. George Voices sing Christmas music. I really can’t get enough of live Christmas music, especially a talented group like this one, at a cozy, casual little venue like the Griffin. And my friends, the Accidentals, sang a few numbers in between sets, and joined the Voices on one number. I even got a little shopping done.
Stafford Regional Chamber Chorale
Last Sunday night, we enjoyed this concert of half holiday favorites, half highlights from the Messiah. The seasonal selections included classical and popular pieces, and the Messiah highlights included a few that the Fredericksburg Community Chorus cut this year, so I got to hear “Lift Up Your Heads” after all. Some wonderful soloists, and a fine directorial premiere by Stafford High choral director, Joe Eveler. We also got to hear Deborah Me, the scholarship-winning pianist, perform a piece by Rachmaninoff. Nice job, all around.
Shopping with Santa
And finally, I found Santa shopping the close-out sale at e.e. smith. I know there are a lot of Santas around these days, but I think this one might be the real deal.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Just one of the many perks of being a member of the Fredericksburg Area Museum (which, at $40 per family per year, is a real bargain) was getting invited to the grand opening gala for the museum’s newly completed expansion in the renovated bank building. The invitation said “Black tie optional,” an opportunity to dress up and mingle with Fredericksburg’s society set that thrilled me and depressed my husband. So while he went to a UMW basketball game, I got together with a girlfriend to attend the event. I heard that over 700 people were invited, and it seemed to me that everyone attended. The place was packed, with a line at the coat check that at times wound out the door and down the block. In fact, as we waited to check our coats, we watched a rack filled with fur coats come toppling down. Who even wears fur these days? Apparently, the Fredericksburg society set.
The event was really quite nice, if you didn't mind being elbow-to-elbow in some of the rooms. Buffets of appetizers on all floors, a couple of meat carving stations, and bartenders serving up wine and mixed drinks. Plus a little combo on the 2nd floor, a trio of local musicians pretty much drowned out by the crowd. And the museum looks very spiffy. They made good use of the bank’s architecture, even preserving the vault, with an exhibit on currency inside the small room. Plus a two story foyer with a huge chandelier, and lots of interesting corners filled with displays and artifacts. Of course, it was a bit too crowded to get a really good look at it. We’ll have to go back and check it out when we have more time. With free admission for museum members, of course!
Here's the two-story foyer with the bank vault under the clock:
On a second floor balcony is the original neon sign from the old Central Lunch restaurant, where Soup & Taco lives now:
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
On Saturday afternoon, we continued the longstanding family tradition of attending the Fredericksburg Community Chorus’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. Things were a bit different this year, with a new director, revised selections, and a new performance schedule. Chris Ryder conducted the piece at a faster tempo than previous years, and cut out some solos and choruses, including one of my favorites, Lift Up Your Heads. This made the whole concert quite a bit shorter. Even the ministers seemed to be in the express lane, keeping the invocation, offertory prayer and benediction (three different names for exactly the same thing, as far as I can tell) mercifully short. And the passing of the basket was done while the chamber ensemble was playing the Pastoral Symphony that begins Part 2 of the concert, instead of before it. What used to be a nearly 2 hour concert was streamlined down to an hour and a quarter. Probably to the relief of all the parents with kids in the audience. (By the way: good job, parents. All those kids were especially well behaved.) So if you ever thought the Messiah was just too long for your tastes, now you can enjoy Chris Ryder’s condensed version.
We enjoyed the concert just as much as ever. Chris was fun to watch, bopping and bouncing on his podium (see the blur of his hands in the photo at top). They brought back a sign language interpreter, after several years without one, and Rebecca Bennett was so expressive in her movements, it was like watching an interpretive dance. When you are signing singing (type that 5 times fast), there’s a lot of freedom in how you express the notion of the same phrase or word being repeated continuously, or even a single syllable being drawn out over many measures, and Rebecca was a joy to watch.
And of course, there was The President’s Own Marine Band musician, Andy Schuller, back for the 15th year, playing the amazing trumpet solos. “The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” I love that part. I admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart for trumpeters. Trumpet fans, check out Andy here and here.
But we’re not done with the Messiah for the year. On Dec. 14, our plan is to check out the Stafford Choral Society’s performance at Colonial Forge HS at 7 pm. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I hear “Lift Up Your Heads.”
Sunday, December 7, 2008
We were lucky enough to wrangle the perfect Fredericksburg Christmas parade viewing spot for the second year in a row, looking out the second story window of a friend's apartment on Caroline Street, near the corner of Amelia. The colder the weather, the more I appreciate being an indoor spectator, and it was definitely cold on Saturday night. I shared my window seat with a 6-year old who was even more excited about the parade than I was, and we had a blast. The lightest possible snowfall, the first of the year, added a little extra sparkle to the air. And I discovered my new favorite holiday drink: Cocoa with Bailey’s. Maybe if I ply my family with enough spiked cocoa, I’ll finally get them to sing Christmas carols around the hearth with me.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
It’s the season for holiday musical performances, and we went to two this week. On Monday, we saw the college choirs perform a concert of mostly classical seasonal choral music. Five groups performed, including the newest college choir, Schola Enchiriadis, which is not a skin disease, but a group dedicated to pre-16th century music. A little of that goes a long way. The choirs all did an excellent job, led by Jane Tavernier (uncharacteristically attired in a subdued black velvet top and plain pants. Jane, the holidays are upon us--where are your sparkles, your fringe?). Again, there was the unadvertised half-hour pre-concert program that we missed for the second time. Why do they do that? Is it for the shyer performers who don't like an audience? Note to self: go early next time.
Tonight we went to the always packed Pops Concert by the University of Mary Washington Community Symphony Orchestra, a group in dire need of a nickname. Instead of the usual holiday tunes, the orchestra, under the direction of Kevin Bartram, played a tribute to Richard Rodgers. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. I am a big fan of Broadway musicals, and grew up on Rogers & Hammerstein. So the music was lively and accessible and well-played.
But the thrill of the evening (be still my heart) was the surprise appearance (well, it was a surprise to me, anyway) of Fredericksburg’s own Daryl Ott performing three songs. I love this guy. He has an incredible baritone voice that fills the hall. BIG voice. He hardly needs a microphone. His voice is just amazing, awesome, magical. In fact, I had to blog right away to let you know that the concert is going to be repeated tomorrow night (7:30, GW Hall, free admission), and if you can go, GO!
There are more concerts on tap for the coming weeks, including The Messiah by the Fredericksburg Community Chorus on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and another version by the Stafford Choral Society on Dec. 14. Plus every middle school and high school in the area will be having their winter concerts this month. So take a break from the canned Christmas carols, and get in the spirit with some live music.
Monday, December 1, 2008
On Saturday, I went to the Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for Hope House that is being held at the Fredericksburg Expo Center. There are over 100 trees on display, each with a different theme, decorated by individuals or organizations. If you see a tree you particularly like, you can bid on it, silent-auction style, and the highest bidder when the festival ends on Dec. 6 gets to take the tree home. There are also booths selling all kinds of holiday decor, as well as a few vendors selling gift items.
This past weekend at the festival, the Rappahannock Model Railroad Club had a large layout with a couple of trains running. My favorite part of the display was a brightly lit amusement park with vintage rides that reminded me of Coney Island. The club packed up the trains on Sunday, but you can catch this setup and more at the Annual Model Train Display on Dec. 13-14 at the National Guard Armory on Rt. 3. We’ve been to see the model trains a few times when the kids were little, and it’s definitely worth the $5.00 admission (only $1 for kids 12 and under).
And I have to give a little shout-out to The Accidentals, the a capella quartet that performed two hours worth of Christmas carols on Saturday. Okay, that’s the real reason I went to the event, to hear my friends sing at their first public gig. Great job!
The Festival of Trees runs daily through Dec. 6. Click here for times and more info.
Here is a sampling of the trees. From left to right, the Mah Jongg tree (which made me think of mom), the Chancellor High School Swim Team tree ("Under the Sea"), and the Ten Thousand Villages tree, with handcrafted ornaments from around the world. (Click on photos for larger images.)
Just a few of the holiday decorations for sale:
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
And second (and more importantly), the new Wegman’s in Celebrate Virginia, a store I’ve never been to, but I only hear good things about. I wasn’t thrilled with this pristine acreage along the river being turned into a huge commercial development (I know the alternative could have been hundreds of homes, and I’m not saying I would have liked that any better. Wildlife refuge would have suited me just fine.), but now that the fate of the land is sealed, I can only hope we get some interesting new businesses out of the deal, like Wegman’s. I don’t need a waterpark resort or four new hotels (Are travelers really streaming to the ‘burg, as the addition of the finished or planned 1,233 new hotel rooms at Celebrate VA would suggest?), but an upscale supermarket will be an exciting addition.
This was taken about a week ago, and things have progressed quite a bit since then. This store is scheduled to open June 21, 2009.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
There were a lot of local plays to choose from this weekend, and we chose the one closest to home: the final performance of Riverbend’s production of Postmortem. The drama students did a fine job with the play, a whodunit set in 1922 which features murder, attempted murder, plenty of gunshots, some bloodshed, and a breakaway bottle over the head (the first time I saw that in a high school play, and a very convincing one, too), with solid set design, costumes and lighting. The play was fast-paced, and with enough plot twists to keep me guessing until the end. And then scratching my head, because the plot had more holes in it than...well, something with a lot of holes in it. Props (ha!) to the Riverbend Drama Dept. for a solid production.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Of course, by "we" I don't mean me. And certainly nothing as elaborate as the five layer Obama cake my daughter baked for election night. In fact, ever since the birthday cake debacle in which I had to trowel frosting between chunks of cake to form a barely recognizable cake-shaped structure, my policy is that if it has to come out of the pan in one piece, it's too complicated.
My daughter will be here for Thanksgiving, so I'm already looking forward to some serious baking. At least this year, dessert may involve more than my usual boxed gingerbread mix.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
It’s been awhile since I checked out one of Fredericksburg’s old-time eateries. The 2400 Diner is a tiny treasure that’s been around since 1950, and is still popular with the locals. My husband and I used to stop in for a big breakfast in the old days, on those rare occasions when the kids had school on some minor holiday that he and I had off from work. The homefries were always my favorite part of the breakfast. But I haven’t been there in years, so when a friend suggested we get a bite there one Sunday morning, I jumped at the chance. Nothing much has changed over the decades, and the breakfasts are still a big attraction. With only a handful of booths and a few stools at the counter, there’s often a wait during busy times, but the weather was warm, and we chatted outside while we waited for a table. We covered a few of the culinary bases by ordering a hearty breakfast and a classic Greek gyros on pita with a salad. The menu features all of the usual diner offerings, and the free coffee and iced tea refills keep coming.
For some beautiful photos of the diner, check out this gallery by local photographer Rich Mason.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Make no mistake, the attraction here is really the beer. They have an interesting food menu, and our dinners were good, but not particularly inspiring. The beer menu, on the other hand, is very impressive. They have 50+ beers on tap, and hundreds more by the bottle. I’ve just started enjoying microbrews and artisan beers in the last couple of years (after 30+ years of drinking mostly Miller Lite...are you beer enthusiasts squirming?). This has been mostly due to the urging of my daughter, who lives in the shadow of the Brooklyn Brewery and Brooklyn’s Bierkraft. And I admit I still am kind of a lightweight, preferring mellower, sweeter amber ales and brown ales to the hoppy or bitter IPAs and stouts. So I won’t attempt to review the beer...I will leave that to local blogger Musings Over a Pint.
This place is shaping up to be a Fredericksburg hotspot (hmm, how often do you hear “Fredericksburg” and “hotspot” in the same sentence?). I’m not sure if the novelty will wear off, but for now, the place is really hopping all evening. I have to say it—it’s a bona fide scene. And it’s also the kind of place where you could comfortably hang out all evening, nursing a beer or two with a friend, without being rushed off.
The renovation of the space is very well done. Lots of sleek surfaces and trendy light fixtures give the space a contemporary vibe, but the wooden tables, vintage postcard art and rustic beamed ceiling keep the space feeling warm and pubby.
The service was fine, but I was particularly impressed by the management on Friday night. While we waited, a manager gave us a tour of the place, including the downstairs room for rent (starting in January) that seats 35. Another manager helped with our dinner order to keep things moving.
After learning that Capital Ale House serves reduced priced beers on Sundays, we made a point of stopping back in after visiting the downtown shops during the Holiday Open House. Again, the place was filled, with not a single space available at the bar, so we enjoyed our beer in the dart room, furnished with a trio of cushy leather couches. We managed to sample 5 beers in total this weekend: Breckenridge 471 Double IPA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Magic Hat #9 (with its odd, perfumey taste), Bell’s Amber Ale and Starr Hill Amber Ale.
Some of the taps:
The bar area, with Jetsons' lighting and rustic beams:
Our dinner, a Maytag burger (bleu cheese) and a vegetarian panini, with what they call Belgian-style fried potatoes, or frittes, but are really just French fries served with mayo. Whatever you call them, the plate needed a few more.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
This weekend was the big holiday open house for the downtown merchants, and we made the rounds this afternoon. The weather was particularly warm, which was perfect for walking around town, but made all the Christmas decorations seem more premature than usual. We hit up all the best prospects for snacks, and I even did something I rarely do this early—bought a couple of Christmas gifts. For the most part, though, I don’t do any shopping at this annual event. So many of the stores are so overstuffed with gifty items that you can hardly move, and after awhile, everything starts to look the same, blending together into one big indistinguishable mass. Gift store overload, I’d say. I think it takes a more advanced shopper to confront the downtown scene efficiently on Open House Day. I’m more of an online Christmas shopper these days anyway, which is much more sanity-preserving for me. Still, I love the downtown atmosphere: the people-watching, the colonial carolers, the Yamaha kids out in front of the studio playing their recital pieces, and everyone strolling along enjoying the beautiful day.
At top, Pete Mealy and Laurie Rose Griffith perform in front of the Richard Johnston Inn.
Below, the funky reindeer candelabra from the whimsical window at Whittinghams.
This antique calliope played off and on during the afternoon.
The calliope was in front of an antique shop whose name I can't remember (near the corner of Caroline and Amelia). I was surfing around the net, trying to come up with the shop name when I ran across this fun blog, Fredericksburg As I See It, which had basically the same photo.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I’ve voted in eight presidential elections, and I’ve never been as excited about any of them as I was yesterday. Not even close. At times in the past, it’s felt like I was supporting the lesser of two evils, or the best of an uninspiring lot. Yesterday, I was thrilled to vote for a candidate who reflects my values in almost every way. From a foreign policy that values diplomacy and international cooperation over unnecessary war, to more reasonable economic and healthcare policies, to protecting the environment, to securing human rights (women’s rights, gay rights, reproductive rights), I believe that Barack Obama will be able to make real progress and deliver meaningful reform. He has intelligence and integrity. To say I feel hopeful is an understatement.
So I went to the polls yesterday at 7 a.m. feeling downright giddy. Considering the national polls, I was expecting to find at least a few Spotsylvanians feeling equally chipper. Not so, at least not at Chancellor Elementary School. From the looks of those glum people, you’d have thought they were on line to view the casket at a funeral. Okay, maybe it was too early in the morning, or maybe they just wanted to get the task over with so they could get to work on time, but I was disappointed that I didn’t see even one person with a broad smile or a spring in the step. Maybe what one worker manning the Democratic table told me is true, that this is the most Republican area of Spotsylvania, already a thoroughly Republican county.
So by the evening, I was looking to spend some time watching election returns with a happy group. I started the evening at Kybecca’s wine bar (my first visit since they’ve opened the indoor bar), where people were enjoying themselves, but in a pretty muted way. Probably the email promising a respectful atmosphere where all viewpoints would be welcome had something to do with that. And between 7 and 7:45 pm, there really wasn’t that much in the way of returns to get too worked up over. With only 2 states counted, the night was young.
But by 8, I was looking for a little partisan merriment, so headed over to Foster’s Grille in Stafford to hang out with the Stafford Democrats. Now that was a great party, with whooping and hollering over every tiny Democratic gain. I’ve never gone to an election returns party before, but now I know where to find a good one. Thanks, Stafford Dems, for letting this Spotsylvanian get in on the fun.
These photos say it all:
Sunday, November 2, 2008
For the second year in a row, we celebrated (or mourned) the end of Daylight Savings Time with a bonfire in the woods of Spotsylvania County. I didn’t grow up with bonfires, and maybe that’s why I find them so fascinating. My family lived in hyper-surburbia, and didn’t do any camping, and generally speaking, we stayed out of the woods. We had a fire in the fireplace once or twice a year, but that was about it. I’m sure my brothers, being Boy Scouts, enjoyed their fair share of campfires, but my troop of Girls Scouts kept as far away from fire as possible. So this whole bonfire thing is pretty exciting, especially when our Saturday night party had a designated fire tender who kept the fire blazing, but safe, despite a fair amount of drinking all around. There was a feast of food and drink (for me, the hit of the night was the hot cider with cinnamon schnapps, which is destined to be my new holiday drink), musicians playing guitars and singing, marshmallow toasting (and a reappearance of the Marshmallonator), and plenty of adorable young’uns to play with. I hope my friends keep up this tradition, and that I’m always able to weasel myself onto the guest list.
Musicians at play:
Saturday, November 1, 2008
We walked around a bit, then headed to J. Brian’s (a favorite of ours) for dinner, where we started with what is usually a huge portion of nachos, but which last night was absolutely monumental. A towering mountain of nachos. I didn’t think to take a photo (must have been shocked into inertia), so you’ll just have to trust me on this. Order them sometime.
Then we walked over to Maury Stadium to watch the undefeated Yellow Jackets take on our own beloved Chancellor Chargers, also undefeated as we approach the playoffs. Maury is like a second home stadium to us, and it’s rare that we’re rooting for the other team. We started on the Chancellor side, but the crowd was so enthusiastic that our bleacher-full was standing. Well, sitting through four quarters of football is hard enough—I wasn’t about to stand. So after the first quarter, we went over and sat on the JM side, careful to keep our Chancellor love on the down low. I got to see plenty of Halloween costumes, including the entire JM Marching Band in costume (my favorite was the fat referree). The yellow jacket mascot even threw candy into the stand, and I nabbed a piece, so it was like a tiny taste of trick-or-treating (larger tastes will come when I break into the entirely unnecessary bag of Snickers sitting on my kitchen counter). The game was very close, both teams played well, and Chancellor won. Here are some of the highlights, including some Halloween costumes.
The photo at the top is the first kid's costume I ever created, for my almost one year old daughter. The stuffed carrot makes the costume, don't you think? She turns 24 this week.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Although the forecast was threatening rain, it held off long enough to get in the Homecoming Parade, which was canceled last year because of bad weather. The parade marches down Duke of Gloucester St., the main street in the restored area. Historic eras collide when the 18th century costumed interpreters turn out to watch the 21st century parade. That's the colonial courthouse in the background, and the Pep Band in the foreground.
This float represents William & Mary's unofficial Triathlon: Climbing the wall of the Governor's Palace, streaking through the Sunken Garden, and swimming in Crim Dell.
Just for kicks, here's a couple of photos of the Homecoming float our campus apartment complex created for Homecoming 1975, my sophomore year. Those are my roommates, Jane and Leslie, carrying the banner. I was a budding art student, and I made the backdrop on the float. "Like Puss 'n Boots, Bobcats Will Beg for Mercy!" I have no clue who the Bobcats were.
While we were waiting for the parade to start, we walked around the Farmer's Market in Market Square, and ran into Dr. Pat Elliott, the owner and founding cheesemaker of Everona Dairy near Rapidan, in the countryside between Fredericksburg and Orange. We'd been to an open house at her dairy before, which is a great little outing, and were excited to hear that she's planned another one for Sat., December 6.
Right after the parade, we stopped at the student center for a buffet brunch. We started with made to order omelets. You can choose all veggies, and even fat-free egg substitute, but all the omelets start with a ladleful of oil, so there really isn't a healthy choice here. Actually, you wouldn't go to W&M for the food, and I'm sure the students get sick of basically the same lineup everyday, but for us, it's still a treat.
After his enormous sausage and cheese omelet, my husband moves on to southern biscuits covered in goopy gravy, some corned beef hash, and the piece de resistance, the homemade Belgian waffle. As soon as he sees that wafflemaker, his eyes light up. They had one at the hotel we stayed at, too, so he managed to have one at each breakfast. As the guy in front of him on line said, waiting for your waffle to bake is the longest 2 minutes of your day.
Before the game, the Pep Band plays for the tailgating alumni. I discovered this great trick that if I take a photo of my son while he's playing, he can't avoid the camera. We also got to see him play in the Wind Symphony on Friday night.
The Pep Band at the football game. I'm generally more interested in the band than the football, but in this case, there was a lot of scoring, we beat the Rhode Island Rams, and the rains held off, so it was a good day on all counts.
We ended Saturday evening by taking our son out to dinner at the Kings Arms, one of the colonial taverns in the restored district. I went when I was a student, so thought it would be nice for my son to experience it once before he graduates in May. The ambiance is lovely, with dining by candlelight and service by costumed wait staff who regale you with historical tidbits. Definitely don't go for the food. It's overpriced, and pretty pedestrian. But, hey, I promised to do something extravagant this weekend, right?