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Monday, September 27, 2010

Skoal, Cheers, Prost: Drinking lite ain't what it used to be

Posted By on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 11:19 PM

According to recently released beer industry figures, lite beer sales are down are whopping 9 percent while craft (microbrew) beer sales are up an equally whopping 12 percent. An easy case can be made for the fact that craft beers simply taste better and lite beers, well, they don't taste like much and as beer drinkers get more fussy -- well, you get the idea.

Certainly the difference in taste between the lites and the crafts is a given. But what appears to be the more subtle factor in the sales fortunes of both types of beer has to do with advertising. Lite beer ads are high on dork factor and low on creativity. On the other hand, craft beer ads can be intelligent, clever and informative.

An example of a well-crafted (bad pun) mircobrew ad campaign is the one conducted by the Wasatch Brew Pub and Brewery in Salt Lake City, Utah. An ad for their Polygamy Porter brew in the past included the tag line: "take some home for the wives." Currently that brew's label carries the line: "why just have one?"

Both tag lines raised a fuss in Utah but ended up putting the brewery on the national map and resulted in all sorts of spin-off merchandise sales.

Meanwhile, America's megabreweries continue to insult our intelligence with stupid formulaic television ads. The ads are all the same basically imparting the message that every beer drinking male between the ages of 21 and 25 is a meathead. A meathead who, will always choose a lite beer over an attractive young woman. And if we believe the lite ads, all women between 21 and 35 are knockouts.

Now if the lite beer swilling male in the ad isn't choosing a brew over a girlfriend, he's acting stupid in a bar that's full of attractive women including a tough-talking woman bartender.

The unintentional subliminal message of these megabrewery ads is, "you're a jerk if you drink our brew." It must be getting through, hence the drop in sales. Who wants to belly up to the bar, order a lite and immediately be dubbed a loser.

Back to taste for a moment. This past summer, a Wall Street Journal columnist decided to do a blind taste test of every major brand of lite beer. The result of his test was: all of the ones he tested were tasteless and an insult to the classic Pilsner style of beer they're supposed to imitate.

So what to derive from all this? Time to go hoist a rich tasting local craft brew.


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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Election 2010: the season of spite

Posted By on Sun, Sep 26, 2010 at 11:52 PM

A guest on one of the political talk shows this past week offered: "there's nothing quite like the throw-the-bum-out energy during an election season." How true.

And this election there's so much more of that energy. Only there's something different about it this time around and it's the fact that most of the energy has turned to pure unadulterated spite.

A great many voters don't care about who might have done a decent job in the senate or house. For spite's sake, they want any incumbent gone.

Uninterested in issues and happy to take political platitudes and candidate trash talk at face value, voters will elect a raft of new senators and representatives. And what will the newly elected do? They'll go to Washington and within a short period of time will become the same out-of-touch elite just like those they were elected to replace.

As Mike Van Orsow of Milwaukie, Oregon noted in Sunday's Oregonian: "the problem with defeating a career politician is that you elect a NEW career politician."

Once sworn into office, the new career politicians will spout simplistic solutions to complex problems, pretend that America is still the world power, blither on about creating jobs as more jobs head overseas and generally act silly.

So what to do? First of all, participate and vote. Then sit back and watch the pontification, the promising, the smugness and the stupidity continue.

Then pray that somehow things will take a turn for the better, that level heads will somehow prevail and real strides will be made to solve the economic crises which is turn will solve most of this country's problems.

Throwing bums out is as American as apple pie. But this time around, not all who have been labeled bums deserve to go. Wholesale change in government won't make America's ills vanish overnight.


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Monday, September 20, 2010

Boom Box: bringing down the fest volume

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 6:54 PM

Imagine my surprise when I sat in my living room a quarter mile from the heart of downtown this past Saturday night and could distinctly hear every note and every word of the fest (whichever one of the many this one was) music. The music was so clear it was if the performance stage was set up just down the street and the volume level equal to that of the garage band that occasionally practices across the street.

It's not that I'm against amplified music but give me a break when it comes to making it way too loud. The fest sound guys amped it up so loud that it must have been ear-shattering downtown if it was that loud at my house

Then perhaps I'm overly sensitive. I thought so until I talked with a woman who lives in the Old Mill area and she reported being able to hear everything clearly including enough bass thump-thump that seemed to shake her small house.

Undoubtedly she and I are in the minority on the volume issue and just not smart enough to know that loud equals good, louder equals better, and really loud equals the best possible music.

A musician I mentioned my volume concern to just laughed. "The fest sound guys over-amp all the music. You could have a string quartet playing Mozart and they'd have them cranked up as if they were a head-banger metal group," he said.

Perhaps the fest folks might reconsider who does their sound, or have a talk with the current play-it-loud-and-proud audio engineers have ask them to tone it down just a bit.

Won't happen, but it's a thought.


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Friday, September 17, 2010

Colorado Springs: an anomoly or model of the future?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 4:48 PM

When I was a kid growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado it was almost paradise. The town was small (some 29,000 inhabitants) with plenty of wide-open spaces surrounding a well laid out downtown grid, a wonderful parks system, great weather and plenty of outdoor recreational activities close by.

Today the town has a population of 420,000 people and is barely recognizable, except for the downtown core, to former citizens like me. The Springs (as locals call it) population boom, and subsequent sprawl, has come from two sources: the military and numerous religious organizations.

Fort Carson, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) are the prime military stakeholders in the community.

Focus on The Family with its 45-acre campus north of town and 1,200 employees is but one of 80 religious groups that have moved to town.

As pointed out in a recent article entitled "Doing Less With Less" in Governing Magazine, Colorado Springs is getting a lot of attention because of its finances.

The town has some of the lowest ($55 per capita) property taxes in the nation. City revenue has been derived from a local sales tax. But with the economic downturn, receipts from that sales tax have plunged.

As a result, Colorado Springs found itself at the ended of 2009 with a nearly $40 million revenue gap for this year.

Quoting directly from the Governing story: "So to save money, the Springs slashed its budget and enacted a series of severe service cuts. One-third of the city's streetlights were turned off to reduce electricity costs. The city stopped mowing the medians in the streets (at one point earlier this summer, the medians were so overgrown with weeds that the city was in violation of its property maintenance code).

"The parks department was hit especially hard-its budget was gutted from $17 million in 2009 to just $3 million this year. In addition to closing the pools and restroom facilities, the city removed all trash cans from its parks, since it could no longer afford to collect the garbage."

The story goes on with a litany of other parks problems and then goes beyond aesthetics and recreation to "the city has cut 550 employees from its workforce by eliminating positions through outright layoffs. Of the 1,600 municipal employees left, 1,200 are police officers or firefighters. Municipal bus service has been reduced by 100,000 hours meaning buses no longer run in the evenings or on weekends-a problem in a place where the vast majority of transit riders have no alternative to get to work. The police department auctioned its three helicopters on the Internet. Spending on infrastructure projects has essentially ceased, and the city faces a $700 million backlog in capital needs."

Is this a chilling example of what is going to occur in more cities across America or an isolated and somewhat extreme case?

To read more and make your own decision, go to www.Governing.com


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Monday, September 13, 2010

Folk Fest 2010: back in the groove in Sisters

Posted By on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 2:39 AM

A year ago the annual Sisters Folk Festival (SFF) appeared to veer off mission in its pursuit of a younger audience (the current audience average age has to be in the late fifties) booking indie music bands and one group that sounded like they'd be more at home playing a frat party at OSU than at a folk festival.

Of course, there were some great folk singing staples mixed in and plenty of not overly amped music, but the trend to new music grated and didn't bode well for the venerable festival.

What a difference a year makes. Brad Tisdel and company at the SFF went back to basics and delivered generally superb music this past weekend augmented by spectacular weather and enthusiastic crowds.

One of the most interesting nuances of the weekend had to be the continued influence of Texas players and groups at the festival and the increased presence of solid blues playing along with traditional folk fare.

Friday night's main stage show opened with Minnesota-based folk singer Ellis. Part of Ellis' appeal is her songs which are very personal in nature but not oppressively so, and her genuinely loopy persona. She's "aw shucks" and then some and as a result has developed a strong following with SFF goers.

Following Ellis was New England native gone Texan Slaid Cleaves (www.slaid.com). Cleaves and his trio delivered a solid set of mostly original material.

Best part of the set was Cleave's superb guitarist Rick Richards who looks much like a young Jerry Garcia and delivered some transcendent solos and runs.

At one point in the set after a particularly brilliant solo, Cleaves looked at Richards and noted to the audience: "He's just showing off because John Hammond is in the house."

Sure enough blues legend Hammond was in the house and delivered a formidable set of delta blues. Hammond walked on stage and without a word went into a blistering number and kept the blues coming for the next hour.

Like most great artists in any musical genre, Hammons relies on his music not idle patter to tell his story. But when he talks, it's like listening to an oracle. An oracle who, as a kid in Ohio, decided to pursue the blues. His stories of his early days, the golden era of the Chicago blues scene etc are priceless and insightful.

Topping off the evening was this year's SFF big surprise-Hot Club of Cowtown (http://hotclubofcowtown.com). This Texas-based trio was impressive in their ability to move eeffortlessly from Texas swing to pop evergreens to Euro folk and their own material. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to the Hot Club.

Backed by a hyper-energetic (slap that bass) bassist (Jake Erwin)), guitarist Whit Smith showed his considerable chops from flashy licks to subtle touches. His solo vocal rendition of "Pennies From Heaven" done at ultra-slow tempo with his own sparse accompaniment was riveting and one of the festival's highlights.

However, when it came to super chops, the trio's fiddler, Elana James is a mega talent. She can play and threw in so many classical and traditional music touches that I referred to her mentally as a "violinist" not a fiddler. Then I recalled that the great classical violinists Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern always referred to themselves as "fiddlers". So a fiddler she is.

James is not only an exceptional musician, she can sing. She milked the lyrics of every song making the most mundane words seem special, memorable. Her delivery is sly and witty, singing in front, on and behind the beat to keep you attentive.

After Hot Club of Cowtown burned down the house (tent in this case) Friday night, Ray Wylie Hubbard did the same Saturday afternoon.

What's not to like about Hubbard, He 's a true troubadour, a guy who plays a mean guitar, tells great stories and delivers a set that seems like you're listening to him in his living room not on a stage. He's personal, approachable and best of all-the real deal.

That evening's concert's opening set was given over to the annual song contest winner. And the winner, chosen from a handful of talent from far and wide, was Bend singer/songwriter Willie Carmichael who delivered three fresh originals full of insightful humor.

Next came the Boston-based Eilen Jewell Band, which, while rocking because of the lead guitarist, was more of a cute-girl in simple black dress with decent vocal chops and group grinding out a loud set that was more show than well crafted music.

Fear not, relief was at hand in the form of two folk legends- Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin. These two aging jug band and blues adherents came through with a relaxed set dotted with great musical moments and anecdotal stories plump with roots music history.

They drew on a broad repertoire of material from seldom-heard blues to an easy swinging version of Rogers and Hart's "You Took Advantage of Me."

Again, as with Hubbard, one got the feeling that Muldar and Kweskin were sitting in your living room playing for you. And in this is the secret to SFF, it provides a comfortable atmosphere for musicians and tears down most barriers between them and the audience.

Following Muldaur and Kweskin, the Celtic group Solas proved that if you take a group of talented young Irish musicians let them loose on old and original material in what one might call neo-Celtic, that you're going to have a powerhouse set.

Rocking the tent doesn't do justice to Solas. They reeled the tent and punctuated the evening with electricity.

It was fitting crescendo to a festival that again proved it is very special and pays attention to what people want to hear and then delivers it.


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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pigskin Parade: Let America's best sporting season begin

Posted By on Sun, Sep 5, 2010 at 11:20 PM

At this time of year we're told that most red-blooded American males are gaga over Major League Baseball's impending playoffs. The pennant races have tightened races in several of baseball's divisions. Will the Phillies once again come through for the National league or are those Reds going to surprise them? And don't forget about the heavily under-publicized and seldom-seen-on- tv, San Diego Padres.

Over on the American League side, can anyone stop the Yankees? Love the Rays and the Twins for their lack of overpaid stars but it looks like the Bronx juggernaut will again conquer all in the AL and win the World Series with no matter who comes out of the NL.

That's what we males are supposed to be thinking about but I think most aren't. No most sports crazed males are thinking about football. Yes it's "pigskin season" as my dad lovingly called it, and the Monday night college game between Boise State and Virginia Tech is a great way give the opening weekend a huge boost.

From their Smurf Turf to their swagger, Boise State has a chance to make the NCAA look silly. If the team goes undefeated and ends up ranked in the top two nationally at season's end, the NCAA can no longer say that team like Boise State, TCU etc can't play with the traditional powerhouses or take part in the National Championship game.

O.k., so how about some love for Oregon's two in-state teams. Both especially need serious help in overcoming their tarnished images and becoming, in the eyes of many people outside the State, what's wrong with big time college football.

So here's hoping that the OSU and U of O seasons don't boil down to more sucker punch, stolen property and nude three-point stance headlines.

On to the NFL and what better way to kick things off with Saint Bret Favre leading the Minnesota Vikings against the New Orleans Saints. The drama king against the team that is quickly replacing the Cowboys as "America's Team."

The pigskin parade couldn't get started any better and as to baseball, well let's talk about that when the World Series starts.

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