The Weinblog goes north

I had previously been in Canada two times in my life.

The first was to Montreal, Quebec in 2011 for bachelor party. But given that I was one of 17 people on that trip, all of whom had to juggle our work schedules just to make it work, it was a short stay.

We were in and out in just over 36 hours, and were only concerned with doing bachelor party things rather than actually exploring the city and sightseeing. I was also 24 at the time and didn’t really care about that stuff.

The second time was even shorter. It was Labor Day weekend 2014 during a trip to Buffalo. Upon visiting Niagara Falls, we hopped over the border (not literally — we went through Customs) to get to the Ontario side. We only stayed for a couple of hours.

So I was due to return. For one, given the mass shootings, police mistrust and chaotic elections in the U.S. and the endless drug and gang wars in Mexico, Canada has pretty much become the Shangri-La of North America.

Downtown Montreal

The Vieux-Port de Montreal.

It was also a sensible time to make the trip given the political landscape down here, in case I needed to scout out a place to live in preparation for a Trump presidency.

Thus, return to Montreal I did. The motivation for the trip was to attend the Osheaga Music Festival, one of the country’s premier musical events. I went with three friends because we all universally liked the festival’s three headliners: the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey and Radiohead.

It’s pretty impossible not to like Montreal. The city is large but extremely clean and navigable, with a fairly simple subway system and very nice people. It has a very modern look but also its fair share of ancient architecture.

More than half of its citizens are bilingual — speaking both French and English — and I can’t emphasize this enough: the women are beautiful.

If you do visit Montreal anytime soon, prepare for three things — you will be drinking Tim Hortons coffee instead of Dunkin’ Donuts, you will probably be thrown off by the country’s absence of the penny, and the default beer is not a Budweiser, but a Molson.

Osheaga

Yours truly.

And the only French you really need to know is bonjour (hello) and merci (thank you).

And as a well-documented festival goer, I could not have been more impressed with Osheaga. Like the city, it was vast but accessible. With several stages peppered around the spacious festival grounds, not too many people were in the same place at once (with the exception of the headliners).

There was plenty of interesting activities, artsy structures, scenic views, food trucks and other forms of entertainment to keep you occupied if you felt like taking a break from the music, which also featured some great undercard acts like the Lumineers, Haim, Silversun Pickups and the Wombats. Disclosure did not make it, which meant absolutely nothing to me.

And did I mention?

The women were gorgeous.

God bless the north.

Canadian flag

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Sometimes the best decisions in life are spontaneous ones

Devout follower(s) of the Weinblog (hi mom!) know that I am a live music junkie, with a particular fondness towards music festivals.

I’ve said it many times, but if you’re ever feeling a bit disenchanted with the world, or are even beginning to lose faith in humanity for whatever reason — attend a music festival. Because your faith will be restored.

I know a lot happened over the weekend, between LeBron James earning the city of Cleveland its first major sports title in 52 years; developments in exactly what happened in the Orlando nightclub nine days ago; and even more recent news about GOP senators blocking gun control legislation; but I have the whole week to get to that.

Today I want to recap my weekend. Because it was a great one.

I have attended the Firefly Music Festival three years in a row. It’s basically become the premier music festival on the East Coast. Recent headliners have included the Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others.

This year’s headliners of Kings of Leon, Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons was quite tempting, but various circumstances led me to decide not to attend this year — despite the fact that I had free tickets waiting for me at will call via my old job.

One of those mitigating circumstances was the fact that I was seeing Mumford & Sons that Friday night at a different venue, in Forest Hills, Queens. Which I went to and enjoyed.

But sometime during that night I had a thought. What if I woke up early enough, hopped in my car, made the three-plus hour drive to Dover and spent the day there? I had nothing better to do. Might as well see some free music with my free ticket. I had friends there I could meet up with, and although I had no place to sleep, it was something to worry about later.

Cut to the next morning, 7:30 a.m., I’m awake, lying in bed, contemplating it over one more time. By 8:45, I was on the road. By 1 p.m., I was at a Chic-Fil-A drive-thru in Delaware. Some 40 minutes later, I was taking a selfie in front of one of Firefly’s seven stages.

Throughout the gorgeous, sunny day, I saw several great bands, talked to many people I had never met before, and enjoyed the privileges that my free media ticket allowed me — not only free entry, but access to the VIP areas and Super VIP areas, which contained an open bar and free massages. Ayoo!

But I didn’t realize how convenient the timing was. What happened in Orlando hurt. I haven’t felt completely right since that day. I also mentioned how disappointed I felt with how some people in the country were reacting to it.

Well, spending the day in the woodlands at Firefly, surrounded by tens of thousands of people simply enjoying life amongst their friends and a whole bunch of live music, you’d never know that there is any hate that exists at all in this country.

It was a beautiful reminder of how wonderful we can be when we’re all together and simply living in the moment.

And just when I thought the day couldn’t get more perfect, I decided during my drive home overnight to listen to exclusively Taylor Swift on my iPod. It amounted to 43 songs in a row. And you’re damn right I sang my heart out.

The culminating memory was the piece of advice I received from my friend that Friday afternoon, who I’d potentially be meeting at Firefly, when I shared with him my spontaneous idea to drive down to meet him the following day.

“Don’t think, just do.”

Take that one to the bank, kids.

Weinblog goes to the desert

Allow me to welcome you all back to the latest edition of the WeinTravel Blog.

In a span of seven days, I took four flights and entered every time zone in the mainland U.S. except Mountain Time.

Screw you, mountain time zone. If I wanted to visit a place that corrupts my lungs with thin air and reduced oxygen, I’d sooner go to Pandora from the movie Avatar. That place looked awesome. And me and the Na’vi would be bros.

Upon my return from Chicago, I had less than 48 hours until I boarded yet another plane, this time to Phoenix, Arizona. Except unlike my trip to the Windy City, this getaway was work related.

Phoenix

It was my first ever business trip, and what I quickly learned is how cool it is to tell people that you are away on business. It makes you seem extremely dignified and important, and immediately draws intrigue into what your line of work is.

And the fact that I have a very cool job — working for a charity that builds homes for veterans — just made it that much better. My work trip, in short, involved me and another colleague visiting Chase Field in Phoenix, the home of the Diamondbacks, to represent our charity for an on-field surprise announcement to a veteran that he would be receiving a mortgage-free home.

I wasted little time posting a picture to Facebook of myself on the field, complete with a Fielddescription of what I was doing. It drew likes out the wazoo.

I did get some much needed rest and relaxation this weekend, and am ready for one more final workweek until Memorial Day Weekend. You know, the holiday where everyone forgets what it’s actually for, and instead posts pictures on Facebook of their barbecue, celebrating the “official start of summer.”

Is there any more annoying words than people arbitrarily declaring something as the “official start of summer?” Heck, I’m watching the Billboard Music Awards right now, and Ludacris, who for some reason is hosting despite having the personality of a dung beetle, just declared the awards show as the “official start of summer.”

Sorry Luda, and all those who will inevitably say the same thing next weekend while wearing a tank top and sipping a Corona, but the summer begins on June 20. THERE IS NO ROOM FOR INTERPRETATION, DAMMIT. YOU CANNOT REWRITE THE SEASONS LUDACRIS.

Woah, got a little too excited there.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, Phoenix is a neat little city. I was there for less than two days and didn’t get much time to sight see, but I sensed a very trendy and hipster vibe there. It’s not big at all — any neighborhood in Manhattan will have more people traveling the streets at 4:30 a.m. than at primetime in Phoenix, but it’s all part of its charm.

Cactus

That cactus is more than 10 feet tall. You’ll have to take my word for it.

I was, however, a little disappointed by the weather, which sounds crazy when you consider that it was in the 80s. But I was sort of hoping for that 100-degree desert heat you hear about, especially considering the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing on the east coast. And of course, on the day I left, it was 94 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Can’t win ’em all.

But I did see a cactus. A big one, too. It was at least 10 feet tall and looked exactly like a cactus should look like.

Didn’t see any tumbleweed though. So that was a fail.

So now I am back and rejuvenated. The next step is to check in on the news and find out all that I missed.

Before I left, the big story was whether prominent Republicans in Congress would reject Donald Trump as their party’s presidential nominee, or coalesce around him.

I’m assuming they did the right thing and renounced him, right? Right? Guys?

Yeah I’m not going to read the news tonight.

Weinblog does the Windy City

Sometimes cities have weird and exaggerated nicknames. Philadelphia as the City of Brotherly Love? Yeah OK.

New York is The City that Never Sleeps? That’s some hyperbole if I ever heard it.

And I know that Los Angeles in Spanish translates to the City of Angels. But I’ve been to Los Angeles twice. Haven’t spotted a single angel. Even a Nicolas Cage sighting would suffice. But no.

Chicago, on the other hand, has absolutely earned its nickname. It’s so windy there that I almost bottled up some of it and brought it back as a souvenir.

I love visiting new cities and discovering the culture, the people and the vibe. Experiencing its identity. It’s interesting because since I live so close to New York, people tend to use it as the point of comparison to other cities.

“It’s like a mini New York.”

“It’s like New York, except…”

“The people there are so much nicer than New York.”

Well that last sentence pretty much applies anywhere. Except maybe Detroit.

But anyway, calling Chicago a “mini New York” does not do the city justice, because it’s freaking huge. There’s so much to see and do there that it deserves its own stature.

Being there for only three days, I made sure to do the things every tourist needs to do. Go to a Cubs game. Eat deep dish pizza. Stand on top of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). And, of course, take a picture in front of the Bean (properly called the Cloud Gate).

Going to Wrigley was especially a huge thrill for me, being a huge baseball fan who has now watched a game in more than a dozen stadiums across the U.S. It’s the second oldest baseball stadium behind Fenway Park, which I have also been to.

The Willis Tower, by the way, is the second tallest building in the nation, topped only by the newly built One World Trade Center. The tower’s Skydeck allows you to stand on a transparent glass panel that juts out of the building and lets you look straight down. It’s not recommended for those with a fear of heights.

And the deep dish pizza shouldn’t legally be defined as pizza. It was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it was basically just a volcano of cheese and sauce.

Chicago is a very clean, accessible city with its fair share of diversity, giant buildings and very limited places to park. If you’ve never been, I’d recommend going immediately.

Next, my travels take me from the appropriately-named Windy City to Phoenix, which people apparently call the Valley of the Sun.

Something tells me that nickname will also hold true.

Why do we keep going to casinos?

I was in Buffalo this weekend, and at one point me and two friends had about an hour to kill. We decided to head to a casino.

Me and casinos are not friends. I could write a horror novel based on my experiences with them, and I typically leave casinos with a deep feeling of defeat and regret.

I’m not much of a gambler. I do like to play Blackjack, and know all of the strategy, but still always somehow to end up on the short end of the stick. And all it takes is a little bit of an alcohol-induced buzz for me to get a little reckless with my wallet.

Basically, I am the exact type of person that casinos target and feast on.

Casino2My experience at the Buffalo casino was no different. After several hands of Blackjack, I was actually doing well. I started with $60 and was about $50 up, and remember saying aloud to my friend that I should quit while I am ahead. The next moment, we got a text from our other friends saying they were ready to meet up at Duff’s Famous Wings for lunch, a popular spot in the area and one I highly recommend.

I proceeded to lose that hand. Wanting to end on a high note, I decided to play one more. I lost. Figuring the odds dictated I wouldn’t lose three in a row, I played another, and lost again.

I was back at even. I could have quit there. But I was determined to leave with a profit. Because I can safely estimate that in my approximately 20 times going to a casino, I think I’ve only made money twice. And it was a marginal amount.

So I said that I’d bet $10, double it if I lose, and bet the rest if I happen to drop both of them.

My thinking was that there’s no way I’d lose three more in a row — six in total — and if I just won one of those hands, I’d either end up in the money, or even.

I lost all three. And I hated everything.

I only lost $60, which actually makes it one of my better casino experiences, but the way it happened could not have been more disheartening.

The lesson? Just quit while you’re ahead. Even if it’s just $50. Because it also comes with the feeling of knowing you just took some money from a casino, which is basically the most villainous and unforgiving type of facility our world has to offer. Casinos make jails look like three-ring circuses. Even Guantanamo Bay is a more fun alternative.

Or the better lesson? Just don’t go in the first place. Maybe take the money you would have gambled and donate it all to charity.

Who am I kidding. Next time I’m throwing it all on red.

I went to see Jenny Lewis and you’re damn right I left with a t-shirt

After getting home from a Jenny Lewis concert on Thursday night, I unfolded the t-shirt I bought that featured a logo of Lewis’s latest album, The Voyager. The former lead singer of the popular 2000s indie rock band, Rilo Kiley, Lewis released her second solo album earlier this year, and made a stop along her tour at a venue about 15 minutes from where I live.

I bought tickets for the show the first day they went on sale. The venue she played at, called The Space at Westbury, is new, having opened last year, and is quite a luxury for me, considering 95% of the shows I see are in New York City.

Jenny Lewis2Which is fine. I love the city, but it’s quite a nuisance to travel an hour-plus back home following a show. So to only have to drive about 15 minutes from this new venue to get home is very convenient. And it proved especially advantageous on this particular day.

When I unfolded my souvenir, it more closely resembled a bed sheet than a shirt. I wear a medium size, and the shirt was an extra-large, even though I clearly requested a medium. I carelessly forgot to double-check the size before I left the venue and now, was out 20 bucks, and had a useless, oversized shirt.

It was about 11 p.m., and I considered my options. First I called the venue to see if anybody was still there, to no avail. Then I thought, I could call tomorrow, explain the situation, and probably get a refund. But, I realized, I wanted the goddamn shirt. If I waited another day, the merchandise would surely have been packed up and sent to Jenny Lewis’s next stop on her tour.

Without further thought, I hopped in my car and sped towards the venue, in hope that people were still inside. The show had only ended about 30 minutes ago, after all, so I figured there must be people there cleaning the place, at the very least.

I probably exceeded the speed limit considerably in the drive, but I was on a mission. I wanted this to be a success story. Most people would have cut their losses and went to sleep, and certainly wouldn’t drive back to the venue at such a late hour at just the mere possibility of exchanging the shirt.

I arrived at the venue, and approached the doors. They were locked, but there was tons of people inside. I promptly began knocking on the door loudly, and held up and pointed to my shirt, performing a demonstrative pantomime that tried to indicate, “Bought shirt; too big; let me in.” In hindsight, I’m very surprised they didn’t think I was clinically insane.

This story ended happily. They let me in and I quickly explained the situation, and the same people who were manning the merchandise earlier were happy to exchange the shirt, and apologized for the mishap. I was just happy it all worked out.

Jenny Lewis was fantastic, too. I met her briefly at a music festival over the summer, and this was a fairly small-venue show that allowed me to be within feet of the stage. She played a sold-out show in Manhattan’s Terminal 5 the night before, and this was certainly a contrast. It’s another reason why I’m glad to have that venue. And I highly recommend people check out The Voyager on Spotify, because it’s quite good.

And henceforth, whenever I wear that t-shirt, it will remind me of my resilience, determination, and personal resolve.

If I tried as hard in all other aspects of my life as I did to get that damn shirt, I’d be the next Steve Jobs.

But for now, I’m just a man with an aptly sized Jenny Lewis t-shirt, and I’m perfectly content with that.

Sometimes in life you just have to embrace your inner Christina Perri

But I’m only human
And I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human
And I crash and I break down

Sometimes you look at lyrics of a song that you like and think, “What the hell is that person talking about?”

These lyrics, from the song “Human” by Christina Perri are more like facts. If you’re human, then you’re susceptible to wounds, both mentally and physically. Any life form that is intellectually capable of processing those lyrics can’t possibly disagree with them. Unless Superman is actually real.

It’s a bleak outlook, but it’s the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts.

Christina PerriOn Thursday, I had the pleasure of being informed of my mortality live when I saw Christina Perri in concert. As I’ve expressed previously, I’m a pretty frequent concertgoer. In fact I think it’s safe to say that about one-third of my income goes to beer and live music. But that’s another topic.

Since I’ve already seen most of the contemporary bands I’ve wanted to see (the benefit of living so near to New York City is all that bands come to you), I’ve now set my sights on seeing female singer-songwriters who I’ve always respected and/or enjoyed as a guilty pleasure. In fact, the savvy Weinblog followers may have noticed a recurring theme. Last December I wrote about my experience at an Avril Lavigne concert, and one month ago, I documented my time seeing Ellie Goulding.

I long ago realized that, at the end of the day, who cares what other people think? If I like a female musician whose target audience is females aged 17 to 23, then so be it. And believe me, I am going to these shows for the music. Life is short and I want to have fun doing things I enjoy. In the past five months, I have also seen Kacey Musgraves and Sara Bareilles live.

Come at me, bro.

It also doesn’t hurt when the singer I like also happens to be really pretty. Christina Perri is a gorgeous woman who is also extremely talented. I especially like how she kind of has that dark, gothic vibe going with all of her songs. Most know her for her 2010 breakthrough song “Jar of Hearts,” which definitely is sung from the perspective of a scorned, begrudged lover. The song “Human,” mentioned above, is the first single off her second album, Head or Heart, released earlier this month.

The concert could not really have been more enjoyable. Though just 27 years old (my age as well …  *hint hint* Christina … yeah you’re not reading this), she interacted with the rambunctious audience like a seasoned veteran. And she sounded great.

The opener for the show was Birdy, an English singer who became famous a few years ago for her covers of popular indie songs. TheBirdy one that brought her to mainstream awareness was her rendition of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” which is a great version of the already great song. Anyway, she’s ridiculously talented as well and only 17 years old.

After finishing her set, she happened to do a meet and greet with fans in the hallway of the venue. As I was walking by her, I’ll admit I had a very brief internal struggle of whether it was appropriate to photograph myself with a girl 10 years my junior.

I got the photograph.

I also faced an equally brief, internal struggle whether I should post in on Facebook.

I posted it to Facebook five minutes later.

And now I’ll post it here. Seriously though, if you don’t know who she is I highly recommend to look her up on Spotify. She’s seriously talented and could become a huge star.

At the end of the day, the simple life lesson we sometimes forget is that nothing should stop us from doing things we like to do. Whether it’s going to a concert, learning to ballroom dance, or reenacting the scene from Ghost with your stuffed animals where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are making pottery. Any outside perception you fear is only amplified by your inner self-conscious.

I don’t blame you, though. After all, we’re all only human.