Friday, April 8, 2022

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Pretending to be young in the desert

Prologue; This trip took place from Friday, October 20 to Wednesday, October 25, 2017 and I've been spurred to resume writing this piece after I learned that the 2018 edition of this festival was cancelled. Then Odesza's "late night" made a return to the Slacker alternative countdown and my memories were refreshed.  Notably, this was a quick trip "sans enfant" - let the fun begin!
For the second year in a row, we took a trip to the desert [American Southwest] to attend a music festival. And for the second consecutive year, it was a great time. And I wish you were there.

Introduction; Someone asked how I learned about this new music festival in Phoenix. It took me a while to remember, but it was back in April of this year [2017] when I was reading articles about the Coachella music festival (that we'd been to previously).  As one does on the internet, I clicked another link at the bottom of the article and went somewhere unplanned and read about the lineup for this new festival. [Here's the article - ]  Subsequently a casual email to Julie saying "hey, this festival takes place on your birthday" turned into an actual ticket purchase shortly thereafter; surprising the heck out of me.  However, it doesn't take much to convince either of us to go to Arizona; Julie has family there and I spent a lot of time there many moons ago. 
Even though this festival is brand new, it is being organised by the people who do Bonaroo in Tennessee, and their experience showed. There was very little to take issue with, and the venue was great although the lake sort of got in the way. Yes, there is actually a lake at the park just outside downtown Phoenix, and yes, we heard a kid on day 3 exclaim "Whoa, there's actually a lake here!" as we walked past it on our way out. (You walk past it on the way in as well, in daylight no less.)  While we're discussing this lake, the festival installed these giant metal lotus flowers out in the water. They looked interesting by day, neat when lit up at night, and then amazing when they shot flames 20ft up in the air. Each hour after sunset, they'd do a pyro show with accompanying music; Metallica's "give me fuel, give me fire" was pretty good.  
Other things we liked about the festival?  
•It was licenced throughout. 
•There was a substantial craft beer bar, from which you could grab a cold one and then go wander. (see above) 
•Handmade village of [mostly] local artisans. In keeping with the "lost" theme, they branded it "Found".
•Loads of corporate sponsors giving away free stuff (beer kozies, pedialyte, blinking bracelets, ever-present Red Bull, and sunglasses).
•There were lockers on site, that allowed you to leave stuff overnight.
•The tequila tasting bar, where we made a new well-connected friend. 

Chapter 1; Allow me to set a scene. First things first, load up this song while you're reading this. Hopefully you have headphones.  ☻ Odesza (iPlayYouListen - live)

Imagine that you are walking across a large grassy field. There's a giant Miller Lite neon sign to the left that makes you wonder why they decided to put a typical sports bar at a music festival. On your immediate right is an over-sized croquet game trimmed in neon lighting. The reddish-brown mountains of the desert are visible in the distance over the trees and buildings of the city.  After the heat of the day, the temperature right now is perfect, a pleasantly warm 26°C that makes this craft beer taste real good.  As we near the opposite end of the big field, we come up a small rise and below us there it is - a music festival, main stage. 
Imagine a crowd of 15,000+ people in front of a stage that's shining with spotlights and emanating lasers under a clear desert sky that has the final twinges of daylight.  The music blasting from the stage is loud, so loud you can feel it. Someone wearing a shimmering silver jumpsuit with an LED-lit hula hoop just runs past you, bounding down into the dark mass of people.  Across the field a giant Mad Max-style fire engine belches a cloud of fire up into the air.  You pull down the bandana that's keeping the dust out of your lungs to take a sip of beer and take it all in.  That's the moment. 
There were a number of these for me during this weekend.

Chapter 2; I'll be frank; I don't get Chance the Rapper. He's a nice guy and is the headliner tonight but his music is lost on me. In a similar genre, Ludacris was energetic in front of an enthusiastic crowd, getting them all riled up.  I was content to see the old band the Pixies, but my eardrums sure weren't.  Unfortunately we missed Calexico and Johnnyswim.  The girls of HAIM were pleasant, and if you haven't seen them perform, pay attention to the girl on the bass - her facial expressions are worth it. 
Wandering around the festival site we came upon the Nectar of the Gods booth where a number of knowledgeable bartenders happily share their knowledge of tequila with anyone willing to listen, and pony up a couple bucks.  Our man Brian turns out to be a wealth of knowledge, not just of tequila but many things related to Phoenix.  Where's the best BBQ in town? Head to Little Miss BBQ on a street littered with tire shops near ASU in Tempe.  Want a funky sushi place with a really good selection of tequila?  SumoMaya in Scottsdale. I wish I could remember more of what this dude told us about the finer points of tequila, but my memory's poor. 
Today was day 1 and this festival has made an excellent first impression. The schedule for day 2 (Saturday) is jampacked. 

Chapter 3: Seizing the opportunity we made our way to Little MIss BBQ today to fuel up for the festival.  Brian's advice was spot-on as the line-up reached around the building to get in to this place, and sure enough, some of the tastier bits were sold out by the time we got up to the order desk. Was it the best BBQ ever? I don't know, but it was dang tasty that's for sure. And the setting of being sprayed by the misters under a shed roof while sitting at big communal picnic tables was pretty neat.  Choc full of meat we get ourselves to the festival; a little bit earlier today than yesterday.
It's Saturday afternoon and I'm pumped to stand in the blazing sun to get a good spot for the Kongos show.  Turns out I didn't need to be so keen as there wasn't too much of a crowd for them. But in a space for 10,000, anything less does feel like a small crowd.  Tritonal's electronic sounds occasionally drifted over from the furthest stage but it didn't matter, these guys were good with their South African-tinged rock. 
The main stage today was lit; first with the Roots getting virtually every head bobbing and booty shaking. These guys are fun[ky] - and there's a tuba!  [Sorry, a sousaphone.]
My favourite musical find at the festival? Aside from perhaps Johnnyswim, it's DreamCar.  Their song "Kill for candy" was frequently on repeat in late 2017.  We spent their set playing ping pong on these translucent glowing tables in the games area directly behind their stage. Better sound quality here rather than jostling for a spot somewhere in front of the stage. 
Best not forget to mention that the Killers closed out the show tonight.  Hit after hit streamed forth like the confetti cannons blasting over the crowd. So good.

Chapter 4:  We're getting much better at navigating our way to the festival site and so finally we're here in the early afternoon, when it's really hot, the food lines aren't long and you can randomly stop by the CoolHaus ice cream truck for a massive customized ice cream sandwich.  So good.
Canadian award-winning group A Tribe Called Red was off the hook, working up a sweat with their dancers twirling across the front of the stage.  The festival actually had a fairly prominent focus on Native American talent. There was a small stage that had readings and various indigenous performers on it during the day. Having more time here today we were able to wander around even more and find hidden parts of the site that didn't know were there.  You really could just come here and hang out all day with no shortage of entertainment, and shopping - Julie went shopping today. 
While you're cooking supper tonight, throw on Big Gigantic and play it a little loud.  On the other hand, we ate our supper of tacos while listening to Columbian singer Juanes.  A couple of folks at the table were surprised that we came all the way from Canada for this festival.  And even more surprised that I had intentionally come to this stage to listen to Juanes sing in Spanish. 
The final, massive, overblown wollop on the kickdrum of the festival came courtesy of Major Lazer; holy crap. Insanely loud and packed to the fences. It's electronic music, and whatever your take on the genre is, it packs a crowd, and you really do need to appreciate the sonic engineering of it all. 
When that show ended and the flood of people made their way to the main stage, we sidestepped it and found a lounge chair in a quiet spot.  The softer yet still orchestrally intense sounds of Odezsa closed out the festival.  We did go to watch some of it (see opening paragraph) but returned to the couches to comfortably soak it in.  I was surprised that at the end of it, nobody from the festival came out to say bye, thanks, see you next time.  Maybe I'm just used to the folkie vibe at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.  

Chapter 5: The desert is calling and I must go.  I drag Julie out to the middle of nowhere just to have a date shake in Dateland and visit some farms.  Interesting circle of events in that this is where I was working when we first met, so she finally got to see it firsthand.  

If this link works, you can listen to my LostLake station on Slacker Radio → 
Lost Lake's recap video: 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Just gotta make it to Sunday

2015 is rapidly winding down and we're a little bit stressed as it does. I've been at work a lot, attempting to catch up after 9 months off on parental leave ‎(leaving the bulk of work for "future Andrew" to deal with. Well, now future Andrew has arrived). Add in Julie's shift work and the holiday season and our trip to Florida was a distant light at the end of it all. It's too bad that Christmas always gets rushed because it is such a good time seeing all of our extended family.  But it's rushed because we do try to see everyone.  
My quick trip to Dauphin was blemished by a flat tire on Christmas morning. My FOURTH flat tire of the year! Come on... But no matter, at least it was at the farm and my brother David made quick work of getting our spare in place. 
Just gotta make it to Sunday.  
‎Recollecting on Christmas day, it was a long one. Mostly due to our packing frenzy until after 1am. In the morning we're a cup short of a cup of coffee to get us going on the drive to GFK. Due to the tire mishap we squeeze 5 of us into our little car for the trip across the border. 
Just gotta make it to Sunday.  
Sebastian is a trooper and like me doesn't want to sleep if there's stuff going on. So he doesn't nap during the drive, and then doesn't nap during the flight to Orlando.  That's OK since we have the 2.5 hour drive from Orlando to Bradenton. So we get all loaded up in the car after Seb does a few sprints down the lobby of the car rental place. 
‎Excitedly we get on the turnpike and head for the coast, soon crossing over Lake Jesup where I happily declare that we'll make it to Sunday!   We are stoked for this trip!  After spending so much time down there this year we've been looking forward to getting back to the beach. 
We missed supper so we pull off into Oviedo to find some drive-thru. As we're sitting at a light, a sheriff pulls up beside us and asks if we're driving a rental, and could we figure out how to turn our lights on. Ok, thanks! (they are on)
In the drive-thru I notice that there's no reflection on the car behind me. I get out and check and we have no taillights whatsoever: no signals, no backup light, just the single brake light in the rear window. That's cool since we're driving at night on a freeway. Ugh. 
Just gotta make it to Sunday.  
‎Back to the rental place, where another sheriff asks us to turn on our lights. It is strange that none of them realised that my brake lights weren't working.  
Fortunately Seb gives little protest to being moved to a new car and we're soon back on the road with verified working taillights.  
‎A couple hours later (1am) and we're driving over the Manatee River with Bradenton before us. Julie comments how it's a nice small city without feeling like a city.  We should go to that tiki bar over there this time. 

Here it is, Sunday afternoon. We've had brunch at our favourite breakfast spot (the Sage Biscuit -‎) and are now having a beer in the lanai overlooking the pond while Seb naps. 
Phew, we made it to Sunday.

< image, 

Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar

 ‎ >

Friday, February 27, 2015

One Night by the Manatee

It was a cool night tonight. Cool by Floridian standards, so perhaps we could say it was akin to an autumn evening. We really want it to be warmer as we’ve had to force ourselves to admit that we have to soon start our journey home. Strangely, walking around, it does feel like autumn: there are leaves on the ground, bare branches above, and the skies have been gloomy and cool all week.

Nonetheless, it’s Friday night! And the baby’s in bed so let’s go!

Bradenton was hosting a concert down by the water tonight [free!] featuring a local band, Wild Root. We like the riverwalk along the Manatee River near downtown – they’ve done a good job developing it with artwork, a skatepark and a small amphitheatre.

Wild Root band take the stage

It was a small crowd but the band did well, playing cover tunes of Joe Cocker to the Chilli Peppers, plus their original songs that were good too. The frontman, Paul Fournier, is a local high school teacher who reminds me a lot of Winnipeg music man Tim Hoover.

After the show we went to a nearby restaurant Pier 22 by the marina. A martini and house-made chocolate banana bread pudding for me, a glass of pinot noir and some sushi for Julie. Gazing out from the heated patio over the river we discuss our upcoming week and what should be on our to-do list as our time in Florida winds down. Julie hatches a crazy idea – what if we fly home via Phoenix like Ryan and Nuala did? Then we could come back to Florida to retrieve the car when the weather is better for a drive home? Constant snowstorms across the mid-west are making us nervous.

We finish up as the Lightning beat the Blackhawks on TV (we chuckle it’s best that our fellow parent Sonny and Rocky didn’t go to the game tonight - they’re Chicago fans - although they would have fit in well with the crowd as it was mostly red sweaters). Julie didn’t think her sushi was good, so she wants to check and see whether the chef is Japanese or Mexican (a joke from 2 years ago in San Diego). Unconfirmed… but the rest of the restaurant looks really nice.

best bathroom story of the week: it’s a small restroom that already has two fellows in it when I walk in. A short, stubby middle-aged guy with a cowboy hat and a beard chatting with a Mexican kid. Cowboy dude sounds a bit intoxicated, “tatered” as they say down here. Says he’s from Calgary. As he walks out, I call out “go Flames!”. He spins around into the door and asks “who said that?” while eyeing the Mexican. With a bit of a smirk he turns to me and asks how I know the Flames. I say I’m from Winnipeg and suddenly I’m his best friend as we squeeze out of the restroom. Do I know Kid Rock? Him and his wife are going on a cruise with him tomorrow, so much fun! It’s the 6th one they’ve been on – that’s all of them, ya know. They’re going with their “loaded” friends who they met down here on Longboat Key who are also from Calgary. His wife comes over and distracts him so that I can meet my wife who’s standing slightly impatiently at the door.

As we see them leave, he climbs into an Infinity SUV, that has Alberta plates. Story checks out!

Monday, February 16, 2015

the Cortez Fishing Festival

This past weekend (Feb.14-15, 2015) saw a small village area turn its main road into a street festival. The 33rd annual Cortez Fishing Festival aims to educate the public about the local fishing industry and the importance of preserving the wetlands. The $3 admission goes towards projects to preserve fishing habitat.

With our friend Shawna in town for just 45 hours, we figured this was a good spot to spend the day, and we weren’t disappointed. The splendid sunny day made the rum punch coconuts an immediate desire. We were happy to be randomly picked up by a guy with an extended golf cart to give us a ride to the festival from where we parked. (this was already after we had walked along the beach and had big bowls of homemade ice cream as our lunch… so justified?)

We browsed the arts and crafts section while listening to a country band. Andrew entered to win a hand-made wooden row boat [if you win, you just rent a uHaul and tow it home!] and considered a kitschy fish cleaning station for a buddy. We thought that this was actually it for the festival, until we got around the bend and there it was – the food!!

Festival food court

So many choices! What to try??  One guy gave a bad review of some coconut shrimp, which made us hesitate, but fortuitously made us check out each vendor to see whose shrimps looked the best. Shawna and I believe that our decision was good: as the shrimps and the large crab cake were both delicious. Who knew that pina colada sauce would be good on shrimp?

Mullet, Snapper, some grouper and even some octopus get grilled in the late afternoon. (It was all a bit salty and reminded us of Donghuanan Night Market in Beijing)

Next up was the local favourite, smoked mullet. Not to be left out, Sebastian had a taste and he even cried for more!

A refill of the coconut to wash that down before Shawna suggested the bakery. I won’t pass up a chance at baked goods, so with someone to share it with (Julie’s often left out due to her food intolerances) we ogled the cream-filled pastries. My strawberry puff was the size of my hand, filled with Bavarian cream, drizzled with chocolate and then topped with strawberries. Shawna’s cherry strudel was just as large (but thinner) and balanced nicely between gooey cherry filling and the light pastry.  Julie satisfied her cravings with a bag of kettle corn.  And with that, we were out of tokens.

There’s a fish processing facility here and today they had the place open to the public. We got to wander through, see some fish on ice (red and black grouper, snapper, mullet) and watch the local guy feed the pelicans who were hanging out on the dock.

As the sun lowered in the sky and our sugar levels max’d out, we made a beeline for the gulf to watch the sunset. A great finale to a great day!

Sunset at Coquina Beach

Additional photos of our day are found on Smugmug –>

More info on the Cortez Fish Festival located in Cortez Village, just west of Bradenton, Florida

An article about the festival featuring a quote from a Manitoban! plus some nice photos

View Larger Map

Thursday, February 12, 2015

We’re not burling, we’re sailing!

It has been a number of years in the making but today it finally happened – we got to have a sailing lesson!

It all started last weekend when Julie booked us for a kayak tour around the south end of Lido Key. Our guide Mark introduced himself as a lifetime Sarasotan who has spent much of his life on the water, even going to school as a boy from the boat his family lived on in the marina. As we chatted he said that he teaches sailing and his wife also windsurfs. What a coincidence! We are also looking to learn how to sail and would like to windsurf as well. Once back on shore we made plans to meet on Monday for a lesson. But fate would push back against us once more and our session was cancelled as heavy rains poured into the area all day on Monday. But today looked fine and sunny with just enough breeze.

Not surprising that we discovered Mark’s house backs onto water, a bayou [riverway] in this case. He had the boats ready to go so we hopped right on board and made our way to the bay while he briefed us on some sailing terms and the basics of working with the wind – remember the “no go zone” that covers straight into the wind and 60 degrees on either side. He rigged up a little pointer device on the front end of the boom to indicate the wind direction. We found some clear water amongst the moored boats in the Bay to anchor the  motor boat that was acting as our home base. 

I went first since I was the one who was so keen to get sailing. Sit with your bum on the side, grab hold of the tiller (the handle that operates the rudder for steering) with one hand, and the sheet (the rope that operates the sail’s angle) with the other hand. With a push from the moored motor boat we were off!

Just like our first windsurfing lesson, the moment that the wind grabs hold and you thrust forward feels exhilarating!  A couple reminders to “fall off the wind” (turn to be pointing more where the wind is blowing) were needed as I tended point upwards a bit too much. And then I needed to turn around. This took a bit of practice, and I’m sure will continue to require practice if we get to go again. First turn was to “come about” (aka tacking) or turn up into the wind. It’s a nifty manoeuvre wherein you slam the rudder all the wayclick for smugmug pictures one way, wait for the boat to point straight up wind and then shift your body to the other side of the boat, switch hands for the rope and tiller all while minding that the sail boom doesn’t smack your head. Four attempts and my confidence was up. After 8 attempts we did the jibe. This is the action that you see people getting knocked out or off boats on TV when the boom comes whipping around. Don’t worry – we watched our heads and safely navigated the turn. To conclude my lesson, I was quite happy when Mark stated that I pulled the sail boat up the motor boat “remarkably well”. Julie also did well and I’ll say that I think she was going faster than I was.

Sitting on the bow of the boat watching Julie sail past to and fro, was so good. The warm sun, a pleasant breeze [damn glad I bought this sweater yesterday!] and the Sarasota skyline made us thankful we can do this kind of stuff – with grandparents at hand to babysit! 

where we were sailing

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A nice sunny morning? That's a paddlin’.

Kayaking appears to be quite popular here, which isn’t surprising given the vast, extensive network of intercoastal waterways, bayous and rivers. Plus, it’s generally warm out! Bonus.

This Saturday morning we took our turn to venture out, booking ourselves a tandem kayak with iKayak Sarasota. Julie determined that they offered the best value and timing of the operators we found online. Unfortunately, when we got there, we learned it was low tide and our guide was a bit nervous about us being able to get into, and out of, the mangrove tunnels. But on the bright side, we were the only guests for the morning so we could go do whatever we wanted.

Our guide, Mark, is a lifetime Sarasotan who has spent much of his life on the water, but “couldn’t spell kayak guide 5 years ago!”. No matter, we’re not white water kayaking here, but lazily paddling out in the calm waters in between Lido and Bird Keys and Mark definitely knew the finer details of the area. He pointed out the AC/DC frontman’s impressive place on the water. And then pointed to an even more impressive house and invited us to a garden party that afternoon – with a wink. And an apartment building for seniors where they used to have to will their estate to the church that operated the apartment (no longer a requirement due to fussy children).

There are obviously plenty of sea birds in this area: cormorants, anhingas, brown pelicans, spoonbills, etc., but we can easily pick out our snowbird brethren (ducks and big white pelicans) because they aren’t nearly as comfortable around humans. Take this anhinga for example. He swam right up to us, and even underneath us!

An anhinga comes swimming close to our kayak

But the White Pelican wouldn’t let us get closer than 100 meters.

Mark scooped up a sea urchin, and warned us of stepping on them. He said it’ll sting, and you can try and try to dig the spike out of your foot, but you’ll have to give up and accept the fact that you’ll now have a piece of the ocean inside your foot (appearing as a small black dot). Upside down jellyfish were also neat to see, and likely something I would not have spotted on the sandy bottom prior to Mark showing it to us.

Eventually we worked our way to the mangroves and our guide picked out a small break in the trees for us to paddle into. They weren’t kidding when they wrote mangrove tunnels on the tour description – you really feel like you’re in a tunnel!  It’s so quiet in here, save for the gentle clucking of oysters shutting their shells. paddling out of the mangrove tunnels

In order to exit the mangroves we did have to get out of our kayaks and push them – with a newfound awareness of where I was placing my feet in the water!

The tour was about 2.5 hours, and a great way to explore the area. We’re now wishing we had our kayak here with us. But we made a friend with Mark and hope to go sailing with him.

Photos on smugmug: 

where were we?15-02-07 kayak gps map