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• My Youth is a Flea Market...

• Melt, Rave, Splurge...

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• A Letter to Hugh Grant...

• Expose Yourself Tonight...

• Romance Courtesy of Jim the Dead Guy

• Tonight, Tonight

• Veggie in the Valley: A Cheesesteak Diversion

• Forgive Me, I'm Irish

• Veggie in the Valley: The Balasian Cuisine

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Blog: Events
My Youth is a Flea Market...
Posted by Ryan Hill at 12:18:56 PM on February 27, 2007
Total Comments: 0

A truly annoying trifecta was completed for me last night as I watched a Scrubs rerun on Comedy Central. My problem had nothing to do with Zach Braff and his remarkable success at turning emo acting into serious dollar signs... at least this time... it was instead with the commercial for the latest baseball video game running in between his tears. The song that they were using, it was familiar, it was... no, it couldn't be... HOLY S@!T SINCE WHEN DOES NIRVANA SELL OUT!!!

Using "Breed" to sell MLB Baseball 2K7 was a capper of sorts for me, as I have seen two other keystone songs from my youth bite the corporate big one in the past month. It started with seeing a Lays potato chip commercial and suddenly recognizing the feel-good song playing behind it as "Feed It" by the Candyskins, a song that came out as I was just getting into college radio in Ithaca but stuck with me to the point that it was in my IPod when I first saw the ad just weeks ago. Then came the latest Wendy's ad campaign, which uses a tune everyone knows: "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes. I loved the Femmes so much in high school that I was one of only two or three kids who could name two other songs by the Femmes despite their Grosse Point Blank-led mini-resurgence in the mid-90s.

It was sad to hear "Feed It" and "Blister" go the way of the $$$, but I could understand it to a point. You've likely never heard of the Candyskins and I never would have either had I not been playing "Feed It" every other hour when I was starting out in radio. They've done little to nothing since despite the fact that they are still active (check out their myspace) and are likely using the cash they made from Lay's to pay mortgages and loans rather than buying jets and gold teeth. As for "Blister," it does border on being an unforgivable act committed by a seminal alternative band with serious cult status, but cult status don't pay the automobills these days and the Femmes' need for dough finally outweighed their need to be taken seriously. Yes, I know that sounds snarky, but there's one more thing about the Wendy's sellout that truly burns: the Femmes' lead singer, Gordon Gano, is a VEGETARIAN. The ad is for BURGERS. Ugh...

Those two disappointments combined and multiplied by a million still wouldn't equal how I felt when I heard Kurt Cobain yelling "we can plant a house, we can build a tree..." while I saw a bunch of animated baseball players doin' their thing, however. Selling "Breed" (from the legendary album Nevermind, no less) does mark the first time a Cobain song has been used for commercial purposes, a move made possible when Cobain widow and American freak-show Courtney Love sold 25% of her stake in the Nirvana catalog to a music publisher/licenser. She told Rolling Stone "we're going to remain very tasteful, and we're going to [retain] the spirit of Nirvana and take Nirvana places it's never been before." Using your dead ex's song to sell a baseball video game despite his well-documented hatred of sports and the people who play them and the sport-in-question's serious drug problem... not exactly what we were thinking when you said tasteful. Then again, many of us were too busy being amazed at the fact that you could use that word in a sentence to care.

I guess I was stupid enough to believe that there were things the global marketplace and/or the capitalist society's constant drive for the dollar just couldn't touch. I also guess people my dad's age running these companies aren't exactly gonna feel bad for me as they were subjected to hearing their own dead iconic voice, John Lennon's, of course, being used to sell Nikes (a move that revolutionized using music in ads, according to adtunes.com), which also was given the stamp of approval by a wife the world will never truly like. In the end, I guess I'm just trying to protect the memories that are invoked by these songs: hearing "Feed It" and being transported back to the small studio in Ithaca where I was learning to express myself in ways I had only dreamed of, hearing "Blister in the Sun" and remembering how much that song and the album it was on embodied the strange trip that is high school for those who dare to be at least a little different, and hearing "Breed" and remembering junior high (damn, it was that long ago) and the powerful force that was Nirvana sweeping me from the grasp of Top 40 drivel like Color Me Badd. Memories are likely what the corporations are going for, thinking that invoking a song, and therefore, a memory, from a desired demographic's youth will inspire them to buy their product by association alone. I just hope my generation will be smarter than that.

-Ryan

p.s.- there are still quite a few acts who resist the pull of commercials, one of the biggest being R.E.M., one of my favorite bands ever. Should "Losing My Religion" be used to sell Jesus Camp or "The One I Love" be used around Valentine's Day, however, my new address will be a cabin in the woods of Montana and I will not be able to be reached by phone or e-mail. I will grow a very long beard. I will also shoot at things every time I hear music.
 

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Melt, Rave, Splurge...
Posted by Ryan Hill at 11:08:07 PM on February 24, 2007
Total Comments: 0

Despite all the commotion over the opening of the Promenade Shops last fall, it took me until last week to visit the two cornerstones of the outdoor mall: Melt and Rave. If somehow you don't know, Melt is an Italian restaurant designed by the same people who brought the Lehigh Valley the wine bar Blue and Rave is the Promenade's movie theater. You've likely heard it and I'll only confirm it, they are hands down the best in the Valley in their respective businesses, but they were not made for the typical cash-strapped twenty-something. As I am a card-carrying member of the cash-strapped, I had not been able to enjoy the services of either place until a couple free passes and my girlfriend's parents came along.

Rave is actually a national chain, although the Promenade location marks the first one in Pennsylvania or any Mid-Atlantic/New England state. That's right, none of your snobby New York friends (or even the smelly Jersey ones) has a theater like this, although your friends in Alabama do have seven... seriously. While I've always liked Carmike off of Airport Road and the Regal Cinemas off of 248, Rave has something no other theater in the Valley can boast: leg room. Four feet, to be exact, enough to make even your run of the mill circus freaks and NBA superstars named Shaquille comfortable. Most importantly, enough so that someone would really have to try to kick your seat, so this time you're justified in throwing a haymaker at the 70-year old behind you. I had heard about this before coming but didn't quite realize just how spacious four feet between rows is; you need to find out for yourself.

As for Melt, many say it's the closest the Valley gets to a real NYC restaurant, but I only saw Vegas when I was there. A muted Vegas, though; understand that there aren't dancers swinging from the light fixtures, but the thousands of wine bottles that pretty much make up one of the walls of the place makes for a showier atmosphere. The service is impeccable, but there isn't too much on the menu for a vegetarian, though those like me who shun the dead things do need to remember that Melt is billed as a grille and has a menu that reads much like an upscale cross between the Olive Garden and Damon's. I did have the ravioli, and when it arrived I found out that Melt wasn't your typical Italian place as there wasn't enough raviolis on my plate to keep me full until summer. I didn't quite know how to feel about this as this particular entree was $18, and though it was very good, it was eighteen-frickin'-dollars!!! That's almost twenty-frickin'-dollars!!! I wasn't paying, however, so that made the whole thing moot. It did leave room for the best. tiramisu. ever. for dessert.

So here's the thing, these places are pretty damn awesome but are located in what's been billed as an upscale mall. Melt may actually be the most upscale thing there, while Rave isn't exactly a distant second. If you haven't gone yet for the same reasons I hadn't, you might want to wait on those upper middle class relatives of yours to visit. If you don't have those, find friends who do. As shallow as that all sounds, it might be worth it in the end.

-Ryan

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Sketchy Comedy...
Posted by Ryan Hill at 05:19:13 PM on February 21, 2007
Total Comments: 1

If you've driven by the strip mall on Airport Road lately, you know, the scary lookin' one with the Redners and... uh... other places, you may or may not have noticed that there is a comedy club there now. I say may not because the only thing letting you know that a comedy club exists is a yellow banner on the brick wall of Club Horizons saying "Wisecrackers Comedy Club" on it, not entirely unlike the yellow banner that hung on the Ramada just off of 22 when Wisecrackers had its home there. I've wanted a full-time comedy club here for quite a while; this isn't exactly what I had in mind, but it will have to do.

Wisecrackers will likely have the same main problem it did when it was in the Ramada- the fact that it is still in Allentown and no comic on the A-, B- or even C-list is really gonna want to play there. Fans of Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan and the like will still need to travel to Philly or NYC or hope and pray they do a college tour. Fans of comedy in general, however, should be excited as the one thing new manager Scott Bruce wants to do that the Ramada Wisecracker's wouldn't is have an open mic. It would be the only one around here (at least the only one for comedy), and it would do wonders for the comatose comedy scene in the Lehigh Valley.

As for the feature performers coming in the next few weeks (you can check them out here), I really couldn't tell you who the majority of them are. Does that mean you shouldn't go? I personally don't think so, as there really is nothing like taking a Friday night after a tough week and going to a place where a person's sole responsibility is to make you laugh. Alex House, the featured performer for this weekend, is pretty damn good at that, and at this point in time she holds the distinction of being the most famous person I've ever shared a stage with (I'm sure she's proud). She's also from Easton and is likely very pregnant (last I saw her was October, she was 3-4 months along). I don't know exactly what I'm getting at there, but I can assure you it would be a good time.

-Ryan

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A Letter to Hugh Grant...
Posted by Ryan Hill at 10:48:28 PM on February 18, 2007
Total Comments: 0

Dear Mr. Grant,

My name is Ryan; I do a bit of acting here and there and I simply need to know- how did you get so lucky? I understand you might not know what I mean just yet, so here's the thing; I just saw your latest film, Music and Lyrics, and it has to be the 14th straight movie in which you play a character pretty much exactly like yourself- a handsome, quick-witted but arrogant (yet self-deprecating) ladies' man prone to stupid mistakes but too damn likable to be mad at... ever. You're an actor, yet all you really need to do is memorize some lines, say them exactly like Hugh Grant the person would say them, make sure to look good while doing so, and ka-ching, there's the money. Please, please educate me on how you cornered the market on being the world's foremost (and highest paid) cute British f#$k-up both on and off the screen.

Okay, I know I am sounding a little snarky myself in writing all this, but I do want you to know that I truly enjoy the majority of the films you're in (although I prefer the ones actually filmed in Britain as they can be much more dangerously funny than Music and Lyrics turned out to be) and count About a Boy as one of the best comedies I've seen in some time. The parts of Music dealing with your has-been musician status, either in the movie's present or in flashbacks, are truly hilarious, but this whole Hugh Grant-as-a-guy-who-is... a hell of a lot like Hugh Grant- is getting a bit old. Not to mention the fact that your co-star Drew Barrymore is basically pulling off the same thing; you could have been Adam Sandler or that dude from the Strokes and very few would have noticed any difference in her smart-but-clumsy character. This isn't about her, though (Drew, you should keep reading though, this will be you eventually); I'm hoping you'll do something next to showcase your range- I think a good cop drama where you're the corrupt sergeant hiding his raging homosexuality would be an excellent thing for you right now as the people at Oscar, Inc (and BAFTA, Inc, for that matter) have pretty much forgotten your name and even your hair.

You're probably not in it for the awards, though, as you've likely caught on to the fact that one has to be in a movie with no budget to get an Oscar anymore. Please understand, however, that there are millions of significant others, myself included, that get dragged to romantic comedies but only stop their kicking and screaming when they know you're going to be in it, because we then realize that we'll at least get some good ol' British snark to go with the sap. It's starting to not be enough, though, and Music and Lyrics is the hard evidence. The wrinkles in your mid-forties face are starting to show through the make-up, and soon Matthew McConaughey will figure out a different accent than stoned Southerner or Luke Wilson will find Monty Python and you'll be completely boxed out of the paint. Please, for all of the people who hope to never find the crossroads where Wilson sold his soul or the crossroads where McConaughey... is, do something a little different next time around and we promise we'll be cool with the Hugh Grant-as-Hugh Grant shtick the time after that. Even if it's another Bridget Jones movie.

Regards,
Ryan Hill

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Expose Yourself Tonight...
Posted by Ryan Hill at 04:31:52 PM on February 16, 2007
Total Comments: 1

...to the entertainment industry's elite! What did you think I meant? Oh no, I wouldn't advocate that in this weather; get back to me in April, though.

Indaglo's 2nd Industry Expose, brought to you with the help of Endless Dreamz and Tom Taylor, goes on tonight at Croc Rock. It's a chance for the dreamers of the Valley to come closer to entertainment Ieii_flyer_front industry reality (and maybe even touch it a little, though not too much or you'll make the news in a not-so-good way) as the reps from numerous modeling agencies, recording studios and PR companies will be in attendance. Someone at this party-disguised-as-a-consortium is gonna win a free modeling portfolio session from Peter Gourniak of the Fashion District, while one of the bands playing will get free recording time from Signal Sound Studios.

The first Industry Expose had a hip-hop theme; tonight's is decidedly rock. It'll either be Ninetail, Maddam Ink, Synged, Skin-of-My-Teeth, Civilian or Stanley getting the free studio time after performing tonight; I'm giving the people behind the Industry Expose a serious thumbs up for putting all local bands in the mix tonight but a thumbs down for the fact that they're bands very few people have heard of around here. Then again, the whole point of this thing is to get some exposure.

These exposes are like nothing else that happens in the Valley, so those who don't have the means or the time to travel to NYC on a regular basis should take advantage. You can get more info here. As for me, I'll likely be finally catching a movie at Rave in the Promenade Shops, though it's likely to be a chick-flick (the girlfriend is the one who scored the free passes)... more on that experience tomorrow should it happen.

-Ryan

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Romance Courtesy of Jim the Dead Guy
Posted by Ryan Hill at 10:34:50 PM on February 15, 2007
Total Comments: 0

If yesterday's storm wreaked as much havoc on your Valentine's Day plans as it did I-78, I have two words for you I never thought I'd mention here: Jim Thorpe.

I spent my formative high school years in the little town to the north named after the deadNewjtsummerview guy who had absolutely no ties to the town--except for the whole grave/roadside attraction thing--and for that reason and numerous others I pretty much hated it. Since then, however, Jim Thorpe has proven to be a much better place to visit than to live as the "historic" section (the section without the dead guy) has had a bit of an arts explosion over the past few years and is now home to numerous galleries and restaraunts. It's become a great spot to whisk a significant other to should he/she have spent the majority of Valentine's shoveling out their car only to find it wasn't going to start anyway.

A few places to consider should you decide to take the 50 minute drive up (just take the turnpike to the first exit north of the Lehigh Valley and follow 209 south): The Blackbread Cafe, for those who don't Olde_time_xmas mind throwing down some cash for their dinner, Molly Maguires Pub, a great bar that looks just like it sounds, and the Shozo Nagano Studio, a gallery of work from a Japanese-born artist whose paintings have been the subject of exhibitions in New York and Tokyo for the past 50 years. All of these places are located within feet of each other, making the small confines of Jim Thorpe the perfect day trip, as there is little chance you'll leave feeling you didn't get to see everything. This particular weekend happens to be Winterfest, so the town will be all gussied up with ice carvings and lights and such and, more importantly, the places of dining will have some good prices to get you in there.

If you don't need to recreate Valentine's Day but are still interested in the place that once called itself "The Switzerland of America" until a little town in Colorado (I think its name is... DENVER) took offense, check out some more info here and here. With all the bike trails, river rafting companies and the largest paintball fields in the land, Jim Thorpe is a killer summer destination. For right now, though, all you need to know are two streets: Broadway and Race, where all the good stuff is. Otherwise it's just an old coal-mining town creepy enough to take on a famous dead guy and name the place for him. Not that I'm bitter... although I am still waiting for my four years in high school back.

-Ryan




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Tonight, Tonight
Posted by Ryan Hill at 01:46:53 PM on February 10, 2007
Total Comments: 0

Today I take my visiting friends to Philly for their first real cheesesteaks; tonight, however, we party in the Valley (should their stomachs be up to it) and here are some of the places/bands/events/shindigs/hootenannies we're considering:

Leechboy at Stahley's in Allentown: The popular acoustic performer and Merge favorite in one of the longest bars in the Valley- it's also a restaurant with a basic, but good, menu.

Drinky Drinkerson's in Easton: In a totally lame stealing of comic ideas, I've started to call anyone I deem to be especially inebriated Drunky Drunkerson. They've got $3 Long Island Iced Teas every Saturday, though, so I could very well be calling myself Mr. Drunkerson before 9pm.

11 different bands at both the Sterling Hotel and Crocodile Rock in Allentown:
It's only a matter of Hamilton Street blocks between these two places, and a quick walk back and forth could get you seeing quite a few local rockers, such as Gotta Get Got, Sinner City, Sedagive (all at the Sterling), Sound the Alarm, the Fold and the Graduate (at Croc Rock). This is if the people at the front are cool with you going back and forth between the venues, which they should be.

V-Day at the Civic Theatre in Allentown:
Okay, so this isn't exactly party material and there will not be drinks served, but those looking for a bit headier of an experience will want to check out the Civic's one-night only performance of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. Tickets are $17, but proceeds go to Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley, one of the local leaders in the fight against domestic abuse. There are obviously numerous performances of the Monologues throughout the region in the coming week, but this is the only one where I know the majority of the actresses (including regular Merge contributors Tesia Nicoli and Melissa Haas) and can say that they will be truly great.

Then again, anyone looking for some real fun should stop my house early tonight to see the looks on my friends' faces as the cheesesteaks they just devoured work their gastronomical magic... I may just have to sell tickets.

-Ryan

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Veggie in the Valley: A Cheesesteak Diversion
Posted by Ryan Hill at 12:26:01 AM on February 9, 2007
Total Comments: 0

I had been a vegetarian for a little over a year when I made the mistake of admitting to a guy I worked with in radio that I had always wanted to, but never did, eat a real Philly cheesesteak. The next thing I knew I was being given permission to drive myself and friends down to the legendary corner of Pat's and Geno's during our show for what they were describing as the biggest event of the decade: Veggie Boy was gonna eat some meat. I wish I could say it was all just a stunt that I acted out for the entertainment of the fifteen people who cared to listen, but I seriously ate that thing as I had sworn I would.

It's been three years since, and thanks to the guilt and massive indigestion that ensued in the daysSteakwhiz after I ate that Cheese-Whiz laden slab of mooooooooooo, it's been the only former animal to grace my mouth in that time. I'm not gonna lie, though, I do still loves me a cheesesteak, but now I can get one guilt-free, as I will this weekend when an old college friend comes to visit and we make the obligiatory trip down for his first real cheesesteak.

The place to go for vegetarians in need of a pseudo-steak fix is Gianna's Grill just off of South Street, though a second location, Gianna Jr's, has recently opened on South 20th. Gianna's uses everything the people at Pat's, Geno's or any other place serving up steak in the greater Delaware Valley region would... including Cheese Whiz. I get the "GG Italiano," a vegetarian steak, cheese, roasted garlic and broccoli rabe sandwich made authentic with the hoagie bread you just can't get outside of the city limits. The best part is the fact that Gianna's makes food for carnivores and vegetarians alike (and even offers vegan options), so I don't have to wait in line with everyone at Pat's or Geno's knowing I'm not going to be eating anytime soon.

Now if only Yocco's could take a hint...

-Ryan





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Forgive Me, I'm Irish
Posted by Ryan Hill at 12:06:28 PM on February 5, 2007
Total Comments: 0

I was a bad blogger this past weekend, neglecting my duties due to a busy schedule that involved working the entirety of the Winter Celtic Classic at the Stabler Arena for RCN, among other things. If you didn't go, but have frequented the Celtic Classics that come to Bethlehem every September, you missed a more compact version that didn't quite capture the true romance of the parent festival, but was still quite entertaining and introduced me to at least one band I'll try and see in the future... that is, when I can stand to hear the shrill sound of a bagpipe again.

It was the Glengarry Bhoys that completely knocked me out; they played both Friday andBand_irish2000_large Saturday (when they closed the festival). I was on-stage filming them on Friday, however, when they had come on after a couple of rather uneventful groups. Their electricity was immediate, powerful and transforming, as what had been a pretty dull start to the Winter Classic suddenly became the rowdier, rollicking atmosphere most associate with any festival celebrating the Irish and Scottish. A five-piece group from Ontario, Canada, the Bhoys went flawlessly through a set where the slower songs were just as intense as the fast ones and there was no time to be drowsy, unlike many of the other groups that played during the weekend (one L_fc3be8e715282367dd07a1e998e26b14 particular group was introduced as "the best Celtic band ever," but I found myself almost asleep at my camera halfway through their set... do I just not get it?). It also helped that the Glengarry Bhoys have at least a couple distinct personalities in bagpiper Ewan Brown, who looks and parties like a frat boy but is damn talented, and fiddler Miranda Mulholland, the uber-talented girl among bhoys. Like that hasn't been written about her 438 times before.

The Bhoys will be back for the actual Celtic Classic in September, but before then will be in Reading in April, at Jack Frost in Blakeslee in May and Jim Thorpe in June. See them if you like or have ever liked the sound of bagpipes amongst a rockin' groove.

As for the Winter Classic, I do think it will be back next year despite a bit of a poor showing on Friday not helped by snowy conditions. Nothing quite replaces the feel of the fall Celtic Fest, however, as the music and the highland atmosphere just seem to work perfectly with the onset of fall and the slight chill in the air. The Winter Classic, on the other hand, was too low-key but not a bad escape from the brutal chill in the air out there now.

-Ryan

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Veggie in the Valley: The Balasian Cuisine
Posted by Ryan Hill at 12:26:59 PM on January 31, 2007
Total Comments: 0

A trip to Emmaus yesterday has me convinced that it's truly getting easier to be a vegetarian in the Lehigh Valley. I had gone to the “Souper Bowl” at Starters Riverport on Saturday with my girlfriend, where my choices were limited but the most interesting offering I tasted came from a place called Balasia, which the guy behind the table described to me as a completely meat-free restaurant. I had never heard of it before, but made it a point to try it out along with a friend (we'll call her "T") from the Emmaus area.

Balasia sits on the corner of 5th and Chestnut in a house T claims has seen quite a few tenants in the past few years, explaining why I hadn't heard of Balasia and why it doesn't have a website as of yet. The fact that this particular restaurant sits in a house not unlike your grandmother's is the first sign that you're in for a unique experience, the fact that you walk into a lobby that features a community "borrowing" library is a quick and powerful second.

Yesterday's lunch menu was completely vegan, and despite the fact that I do eat (and love) eggs, I opted for an egg-free quiche featuring mushrooms and greens on a bed of brown rice. T went for a wrap that featured, among other things, sweet potatoes. Once again, I don't claim to be a food expert, but I can say that I had no way of noticing that my quiche was egg-less save for the fact that the waiter told me it would be, and T wouldn't shut up about how good her wrap was.

The total bill came to just under $20, though T only had water; my one complaint about Balasia is the fact that I chose a $2.50 iced tea and was never offered a refill despite the fact I was given a glass with more ice than tea. I don't know if they have a no-refill policy, but that seems a bit much to pay for tea that was easily gone before the waiter even took my order, let alone before he actually gave me my food. T got quite a big water, however. Oh, speaking of the bill, the most unique part of the whole Balasia experience has to be the actual, physical bill. I'll let you find that one out for yourself, but I do have to say that T didn't stop laughing for a solid five minutes after the waiter walked away, plus the fact that she kept it for posterity.

Balasia earns four out of five uh... stars, I guess out of lack of originality, for what is one of the most unique dining experiences in the Valley. Those who frequent Yocco's more than anything else will likely not find anything on Balasia's menu appetizing, but carnivores open to experimentation may just surprise themselves. As for the Valley's vegetarians and vegans, Balasia is a must.

-Ryan

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