Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Iconic Music Venue Celebrates 100th Anniversary

There are a few outdoor music venues in the United States that have gained recognition for being not just a venue but a destination. There’s the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington, Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Wisconsin and of course, Red Rocks Amphitheatre right here in Colorado. While the other two are music destinations that people are always excited to visit to see their favorite band, Red Rocks is an iconic venue that has hosted some of the greatest musicians in history. If only those rocks could talk.

Last month marked the 100th anniversary of touring acts playing live concerts at Red Rocks. Legendary opera singer Mary Garden sang there in 1911 and famously claimed, “Never in any opera house the world over have I found more perfect acoustic properties. I predict that someday, 20,000 people will assemble there to listen to the world’s greatest masterpieces.”

And she was right. Since then music legends including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, John Mellencamp, Van Morrison, Stevie Nicks, U2 and Dave Matthews Band, just to name a few, have graced the revered stage.

What’s amazing about Red Rocks is that if you go to a show the venue provides a three-prong experience. First, you get to enjoy (or agonize over) a nice hike up those steps. There are some people who go there for an outdoors workout to run the steps and then check out the beautiful view at the top. Those who are attending a concert may or may not like the hike but everyone likes the view once they get to the top. It’s amazing to look out at all that natural beauty and then, almost as a bonus, you get to see one of your favorite musicians perform. And if you’ve ever seen a show at Red Rocks you know that artists bring out the big guns. It’s like there is something in the air – or the rocks – that reminds musicians why they love music and why they started playing in the first place. Seriously – all hippie bullshit aside Red Rocks speaks to people who are there whether you are performing, attending a show or just hanging out.

As far as the history of the venue goes – the City and County of Denver purchased it in 1941 for $50,000. Since then Red Rocks has done a lot for Denver; last year alone it contributed $1.85 million in tax revenue. The venue has held regular concert seasons every year since 1947 and can house 9,450 fans at a time.

Over the years many bands have filmed and recorded concerts at Red Rocks including U2’s legendary Under a Blood Red Sky in 1983 and Dave Matthews Band’s popular album Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95. Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson and Big Head Todd and the Monsters have played the most shows at Red Rocks.

After concert industry magazine Pollstar awarded Red Rocks the honor of the best small outdoor venue for the 11th time, they decided to name the nationally coveted honor the Red Rocks Award and removed the venue from the running.

On a personal note, some of the best shows I’ve ever seen have taken place at Red Rocks. The day I moved to Colorado nine years ago I saw Tom Petty and Jackson Browne with my good friend J.P. Crum. It was quite a welcome to my new home. Since then I’ve also seen the Beastie Boys, the Foo Fighters, Journey, the Allman Brothers, Def Leppard and Ben Harper, just to name a few. This summer I hope to see a few more good ones – possibly Soundgarden, Kenny Chesney and Kings of Leon but either way I will visit Red Rocks at some point this summer. You can’t beat that view on a blue sky summer day in Colorado.

Monday, May 16, 2011

“Welcome To 2008”

That is what my cousin Marshall said to me when I told him that I finally purchased an iPhone yesterday. After much conversation that began in February about how my phone was from the 90s I finally made the big switch to a Smartphone and I’m very glad I did. These phones are amazing – they are like little handheld computers that also function as a phone. I know everyone else in America has either a Blackberry or an iPhone and already knows this but I’m excited about my new toy and I’m going to tell you why.

Obviously Smartphones have that name for a reason – their capabilities are seemingly endless as you can pretty much run the world from your phone. Email, Facebook, Google – if you want to look someone or something up you can do it in less than 30 seconds. Also, if you are in an unfamiliar city and are looking for the closest Italian restaurant or need directions to the ballpark your phone can help. It saves time, money and a lot of aggravation.

Speaking of aggravation – in the last six months I’ve noticed that not having a Smartphone was becoming increasingly limiting due to the fact that it wouldn’t let me store more than 50 photos on the phone, I couldn’t read a text while talking on the phone and I sure as hell couldn’t surf the Internet to look something up. If I saw a funny bumper sticker, sign or license plate I couldn’t share it. But now everything has changed and I haven’t had the phone 24 hours yet. I’m able to multi-communicate and if there is something I want my friends and family to see I can make it happen by pressing a few buttons.

In addition to the cool features I’ve already explored I’m looking forward to using my iPhone at upcoming concerts as I’ve heard that it will probably take better photos than my digital point-and-shoot I carry in my purse. I’m also looking forward to the music side of this phone – I haven’t transferred any music from my iTunes account to my phone yet but I will try to do it tonight!

So the bottom line is that what everyone says is true: “Getting an iPhone will change your life and you will never go back.” Thank you to Marshall Spooner, Justin Reed, Dave Mescon and the rest of the geeky tech guys in my life for giving me such a hard time and forcing me via peer pressure to buy this phone. And a big thank you to my mother for being so generous with her upgrades. It’s all happening.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Denver Derby Day!

Why is celebrating the Kentucky Derby such a big deal? Although it’s known as the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” I feel like it’s such a random event to celebrate. But don’t kid yourself- we celebrated this year! For the first time ever I attended the famous Denver Derby Party which has taken place at the Botanic Gardens in the past and has always sold out very quickly. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the party moved to Infinity Park and sold out weeks before the event – boasting close to 5,000 attendees. Featuring live band Super Diamond, special guest DJs and the best people watching I’ve seen in a long time, the Derby Party was the place to be this weekend. The hats, the dresses, the mint juleps, the seersucker suits and the fact that it was 80 degrees and sunny made the party something to talk about. The only downside is that the party’s reputation precedes itself in that it is quite the drinking fest – I definitely saw a few people literally falling down and being attended to by very patient and helpful cops and paramedics. Nothing too serious – just way too much booze.

What’s funny is that the party was five hours long and the race, as we know, is only two minutes. So why is this event such a big deal? Is it the allure of watching and betting on those magnificent Thoroughbreds or is it the dressing up in fun and interesting outfits?

On the sports side, the Kentucky Derby is probably the most anticipated horse race in the U.S. season. It is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbred horses, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The race is one and a quarter mile at Churchill Downs and is the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. It is followed by the Preakness Stakes and then the Belmont Stakes. A horse must win all three to win the Triple Crown. The attendance at the Kentucky Derby ranks first in North America and usually surpasses the attendance of all other stakes races including the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup.

This year Animal Kingdom was the winner of Kentucky Derby 137 – a horse that no one expected to pull out the title. Was watching the race at the Derby Party exciting? Absolutely. But I wonder how many attendees actually remembered who won – or for that matter I wonder how many remembered the number of mint juleps they drank? Either way, the party was something to see and I’m glad I got to be a part of it. Seeing everyone dressed up was really fun and wearing a big hat was fun as well. I guess the allure was just being there – and celebrating the brilliance that is Kentucky Derby horses.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Steven Tyler Is Having A Moment

What decade is it? Steven Tyler is currently on the cover of Rolling Stone and People and for once it’s not because he’s back in rehab. Whether you watch the show or not, you know that he is one of the judges on American Idol which is why Tyler is getting so much well-deserved attention. Instead of showing up to work slurry his words and staring with cocaine eyes he is charming the audience, the contestants, the other judges and, most importantly, the viewers watching at home. People are loving his funny phrases and hilarious outbursts – it’s like everything that comes out of his enormous mouth is a sound bite. One of my favorites is something he said to a 16 year-old female contestant: “Girl, I have sandwiches under my bed that are older than you!” Who talks like that? Apparently Steven Tyler does and the world is eating it up.

Everyone knows that Tyler has been the front man for Aerosmith since the 1970s – a band that has had 21 singles on the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Here are a few you might recognize:

1975: "Sweet Emotion", #36
1976: "Dream On", #6
1976: "Last Child", #21
1977: "Walk This Way", #10
1977: "Back in the Saddle", #38
1987: "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)", #14
1989: "Love in an Elevator", #5
1990: "Janie's Got a Gun", #4
1993: "Livin' on the Edge", #18
1993: "Cryin'", #12
1994: "Crazy", #17
1997: "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)", #35
1998: "Pink", #27
1998: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing", #1
2001: "Jaded", #7

Of course with the kind of success this band has seen over the last four decades, decadence inevitably followed and Tyler was no stranger to booze, drugs and subsequently, rehab. He completed drug rehabilitation in 1986 and maintained sobriety until 2008 when he checked into Las Encinas Hospital rehabilitation clinic to recover from multiple leg surgeries. He made a public statement saying that his foot repair pain was intense and that the months of rehabilitative care and the painful strain of physical therapy were traumatic. In the late 2000s he developed a painkiller addiction for which he successfully received treatment in 2009. At the end of 2009, Rolling Stone reported that Tyler had checked into rehab for pain management.

Since then Tyler has gotten his act together and is now the most likeable judge on one of the most popular shows on television. That being said, Tyler hasn’t lost his edge – he is still the same badass rock and roll front man but rather than shooting heroin he is giving up-and-coming young talent the advice and encouragement they need to become stars. His band is also releasing a compilation album called Tough Love: Best of the Ballads which will hit the streets on May 10. Although Aerosmith has released greatest hits albums in the past, I’m assuming that Tough Love is a result of Tyler’s favorable turn as a judge on Idol. Hopefully album will do well but since there isn’t any new music on there and most Aerosmith fans already have the songs that appear on the disc it will be interesting to see what happens. On the other hand, Tyler’s turn on Idol may have earned the band a whole new crop of young fans who don’t have the songs yet. I guess we’ll see how it goes – but in the meantime, to quote our rock and roll hero, “Well hellfire, save matches, fuck the steep and see what hatches!”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Happened To DualDisc?

Remember when records were a big deal (the first time) and they had a B side that allowed you to flip them over and play more music? Well a few years ago a group of record companies including EMI Music, Universal Music Group, Sony/BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and 5.1 Entertainment Group decided to release a type of double-sided optical disc that was like the record except it was a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. It was called DualDisc.

DualDisc is a double-sided optical disc product developed by the record labels mentioned above and it first appeared in the United States in March 2004 as part of a marketing test conducted by the same five record companies who developed the product. The test involved thirteen titles being released to a limited number of retailers in the Boston and Seattle markets. The test marketing was seen as a success after 82 percent of respondents to a survey (which was included with the test titles) said that DualDiscs met or exceeded their expectations. In addition, 90 percent of respondents said that they would recommend DualDisc to a friend. DualDisc titles received a mass rollout to retailers throughout the United States in February 2005, though some titles were available as early as November 2004. The recording industry had nearly 200 DualDisc titles available by the end of 2005 and over 2,000,000 units had been sold by the middle of that year.

So what the hell happened to them?

I remember attending a NARM convention with my mother in 2004 when they were introducing DualDisc. One of the swag gifts we were given featured this technology – it was a Dave Matthews album with their new music on one side and a concert DVD on the other. We were told the technology was going to revolutionize the record business.

Unfortunately, after graduating college in 2006 I’ve hardly seen DualDiscs. Were people just not that into a DVD on the other side of the disc or were they just not interested in watching a concert DVD at all? Or maybe it was too confusing for people to grasp – had we had been so trained to play the “correct” side of a CD that the idea of turning it over to a B side like a record was too unnatural to get used to? I hate to think that as a music-loving society we couldn’t handle the dual pressure so why has this format disappeared?

The challenge for the designers of DualDisc was to produce a dual-sided disc that was not too thick to play reliably in slot-loading drives and not too thin to be tracked easily by the laser inside the player. Engineers have tried to get around this by making the pits in the CD layer larger than on a conventional CD making it easier for the laser to read. The downside to this, however, is that the playing time for the CD layer of some early DualDiscs decreased, from the standard 74 minutes of a conventional CD to around 60 minutes.

Besides the loss of 14 minutes, the biggest issue was probably these two warnings that no one wanted to deal with:

1) “This disc is intended to play on standard DVD and CD players. May not play on certain car, slot load players and mega-disc changers.”

2) “The audio side of this disc does not conform to CD specifications and therefore not all DVD and CD players will play the audio side of this disc.”

The fact that a customer might be purchasing something that might not work in their various CD and DVD players was a gamble and quite frankly a pain the in ass. Why buy something that comes with warnings that are pretty much telling you that the technology isn’t going to work?

I’m hoping that record labels (or someone, anyone) figures out a way to make the DualDisc technology perform that way it should. I believe that given the proper technology we could get used to flipping discs again.

Watching The West Wing

In the last few years I’ve gotten more into watching TV shows on DVD rather than movies. For whatever reason I like finding a good show and then watching the seasons on DVD – I’ve done this with shows like Brothers & Sisters, Rescue Me, Grey’s Anatomy, 90210 and Californication, just to name a few. If I haven’t already seen episodes of a particular show I usually download the first few from season one on iTunes and if I like it then I buy the whole season on DVD.

My most recent choice (thanks to suggestions from several people but especially Heidi) is The West Wing and surprisingly I’m loving the show. Knowing it was a political show I was a little skeptical at first but I was also excited because I knew Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen were in it. For those who haven’t seen the show before, it is an ensemble drama set in the West Wing of the White House—where the Oval Office and offices of presidential senior staff are located—during the fictional Democratic administration of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (played by Sheen). Written by Aaron Sorkin (the genius behind The Social Network) the show aired from 1999 until 2006. It’s no surprise that Sorkin wrote this show as the dialogue is creative, engaging, fast-paced and extremely well-written.

Also, the cast works very well together – so well in fact that from the very first episode I believed that they had actually been working together on a presidential campaign for years. In addition to Lowe and Sheen there are some familiar faces including John Spencer (who played FBI agent Womack in The Rock), Allison Janney (who played the nutjob principal in 10 Things I Hate About You), Bradley Whitford (Adam Sandler’s nemesis in Billy Madison) and Moira Kelly (the bitchy, spoiled ice skater in The Cutting Edge).

Each character seems to be the best of the best in their respective fields and they are as smart as they are smart ass. With so many people on the show it could get confusing or frustrating but it doesn’t – Sorkin leaves no room for any unnecessary, boring characters or storylines. One of the most interesting episodes so far is the one where the staff takes the President’s daughter to a bar and when a few college boys try to get fresh the FBI is there in seconds. It was awesome – and not a life I would ever want to lead.

From what I’ve read The West Wing received positive reviews from critics, political science professors and former White House staffers which is no surprise. The show seems to get better with each episode. In total, the show won three Golden Globe Awards and 27 Emmy Awards, including the award for Outstanding Drama Series, which it won four consecutive times from 2000 through 2003.

With all the political bullshit I hear about on a daily basis, whether its write-in candidates for Denver City Council or the birther issue for the millionth time, it’s nice to watch political drama that’s both interesting and fictional. I look forward to watching the rest of season one and I hope that it continues to be as good as the first seven episodes.

Barcodes! Tags! Smartphones!

Until recently I thought that barcodes were the black and white squares you scanned on the back of products at grocery stores and record stores to pay for your items. Clearly I’m behind on the times and clearly I need a Smartphone. (Yes Marshall and J.Reed, I finally admit it).

If you open a magazine and pay attention there are now small colorful Microsoft “tags” that enable those with a Smartphone to snap a photo or scan the tag which will then take you to an accompanying web site or video. Entertainment Weekly has included tags that will take you to summer movie trailers while Snowboarder features tags that will bring you to their web site. Even advertisers are jumping on the barcode bandwagon which is a good move – it links those who are reading hard magazines to those who spend more time reading online.

Here’s how it began: High Capacity Color Barcode (HCCB) is the name coined by Microsoft for its technology of encoding data in a 2D “barcode” using clusters of colored triangles instead of the square pixels traditionally associated with 2D barcodes. It has been licensed and serves as the basis for the Microsoft Tag mobile tagging application.

The technology was created by Gavin Jancke, an engineering director at Microsoft Research. Jancke has said that HCCB was not intended to replace traditional barcodes. Instead, “it’s more of a ‘partner’ barcode” and that “the UPC barcodes will always be there.” He continued, “Ours is more of a niche barcode where you want to put a lot of information in a small space.” The Microsoft Tag reader is compatible for Internet-capable mobile devices including many based on the Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Java, Android, Symbian S60, iPhone and Java ME platforms.

The question is whether or not this little tag trend is going to catch on and I think that it already has. Not only do these tags provide ways for the reader to learn more and see more, whether it’s a cool web site or the latest trailer for Hangover 2, it is also very cool. Taking a photo with your cell phone that immediately directs you to a web site that contains information, photos and videos concerning something you already think is interesting? Sign me up. Now I just have to wait until my AT&T upgrade kicks in at the end of June so that (as my hilarious cousin and friends would say) I can join 2011.