Flying Fish, Hipster Neighborhoods, and Wonderful Friends – We Must Be in Seattle

Buskers at the Pike Market in SeattleAfter the long and draining drive on Sunday in our Not All Who Wander Are Lost tour, we spent Monday resting, meeting up with friends, and simply enjoying Seattle.

I always love my trips to this Northwest city, but none more so than this visit when I was able to share some special places with Claire, who was seeing it for the first time.  On recent business trips I have discovered a new favorite hotel in Seattle – the Paramount – and so we woke up Monday morning smack in the middle of Seattle’s downtown.

But we didn’t wake up too soon.  We needed the morning to catch up on sleep and exercise and to finish up the previous day’s blog post, so we had a leisurely morning. And – as you can see – my late nights have caught up with me and these posts are now coming out the following morning.  (I know that a few folks are reading, because at least one family member called Candice to make sure we were okay after not seeing a post early yesterday morning.  Sorry for the scare!)

Yelp came through for us again, as we began walking the streets in search for a breakfast venue.

Seattle Waffles

Sweet Iron was a great start to our day, but it wasn’t the last time we encountered tasty Washington State peaches.

Suitably fortified, we spent a couple of hours looking at fountains, stores, and buildings downtown. I recommended we run through a fountain that – in design – was supposed to have a dry passageway between the walls of water.  In execution…well, we experienced some dampness.  Luckily, Monday was the day Seattle topped its high temperature for the year – at 96 degrees – so we dried out before we hit the original, downtown Nordstroms and a few other stores.

As lunchtime grew near, we checked out of the Paramount and headed up to the Pike/Pine neighborhood of Seattle.  Not for Tourists describes the area as

…the epicenter of Seattle hipster culture, where twenty-something bohemians waste their youth in assorted tattoo parlors, carefully-designed dive bars, and vintage clothing stores.

Now, while somewhat true, that seems a little harsh. In fact, the National Trust has an office in Pike/Pine and there are wonderful restaurants and stores, beyond the dive bars and places for vintage clothing.

Seattle's Plum Bistro

Claire met up with her college friend Gailyn at Plum Bistro in Pike/Pine…which I chose because it is conveniently located above the offices of the Preservation Green Lab, so I could have lunch with my Seattle colleagues at the same restaurant. The food and company (at both ends of the room) were terrific. Then we wandered over to one of the great independent bookstores in the country – Elliott Bay Books – for some shopping.  As I was checking out, the man behind the counter – finding out I was from the DC area – asked what was my bookstore.  I replied, “Why, Politics and Prose, of course.” He quickly agreed, and said that they had a friendly competition over which store had more – and the more interesting – events.  I love independent bookstores…and later today Claire will get introduced to one of the granddaddy’s of the genre: Powell’s City of Books in Portland. We skipped Stumptown in Pike/Pine (my favorite coffee shop)…but maybe we’ll catch that today in Portland as well.

We were in a bit of a rush.  I wanted to show Claire “The center of the known universe” – aka Fremont. For those who know DC, think Takoma Park with more restaurants and dreadlocks.

Seattle Fish Market

Then we had to take in Pike Place Market before heading south. Claire captured a flying fish on camera at the Pike Place Fish Company (a bit hard to do, as there are many more of us tourists trying to take pictures than there are people actually buying fish that the guys can toss back and forth between the counter and the folks working the floor). Nearby, The Slick Skillet Serenaders were busking to an appreciative crowd (photo at the top of the post), and the shops were brimming with people, flowers, and so much more.

Flowers at Seattle's Pike Place Market

We stopped by to look into the original Starbucks (where we saw our second Nats hat of the trip) and then we bid good-bye to Seattle and headed out for the short drive to Gig Harbor, Washington, where we spent the night with our good friends Shari and Bruce Shull.

Shari Shull playing their home organ

We got to know the Shulls in Staunton, where I sang with Shari in an early-music ensemble called Canticum Novum and Bruce was an organ builder with our friends at Taylor and Boody Organs. Nine years ago, Bruce and Shari moved west where Bruce joined the organbuilders at Paul Fritts and Company. I have written about my love of tracker organs in the past, so as soon as I saw this sweet little organ in their living room, I asked Shari to play some really old-time music for us – which she did with great skill, given that she is a professional organist.

Gig Harbor photo by Bruce Shull

Bruce and Shari Shull with Claire and DJB

After catching up on family, business, quilt making, planes (Bruce is also a pilot), and the like, the four of us headed down to Gig Harbor (shown above in the photo by Bruce), where we enjoyed a delightful seafood dinner at Anthony’s…and, yes, we did split a sinful peach and ice-cream dessert. It was a wonderful evening.

Today…we’re off to Portland, Oregon which is another of my favorite cities (do you see a theme here?). In fact, Claire mentioned last evening at dinner that she was using this trip to check out places where she might live after college!  Be still my heart – a real chance to come to the Pacific Northwest on a regular basis?  I can just hear Candice sigh all the way across the country.

Oh well, I have a couple of tunes for yesterday.  First, the Old Crow Medicine Show is one of the few bands on both Claire’s playlist and mine, so when Wagon Wheel came up on our drive south yesterday, I told Claire I was going to add that video in honor of the buskers at Pike Place Market.  But then, after hearing Shari play the organ, I decided it was time for a second video, this time of Leon Berben playing on a historic Arp Schnitger organ…which happens to be a favorite organ builder of the Shull family. (I can’t tell how I know this secret!)

Enjoy them both.

More to come…


Eating Our Way Through New England

From Blue State Coffee in Providence, where Claire and I are enjoying a couple hours relaxation after an early morning wake-up and drive, here are some reflections on the good food found in New England on our trip.

Sorry Blue State, but the best coffee we found – hands down – was at Bard Coffee in Portland, Maine.  (That’s not really fair to Blue State, since neither Claire nor I are actually having coffee here…she’s into a great blueberry smoothie and I’m having a delicious iced tea, so we’ll rate them best smoothies and tea…but I digress.)

We had breakfast at Bard two days in a row and our various cups of coffee and pastries were terrific.  Everything is fresh and the staff is incredibly friendly.  Plus, when I came in on Thursday, they had Nickel Creek’s The Fox coming out of the speakers, and on Friday, it was Old Crow Medicine Show followed by Alison Krauss and Union Station playing the great Jerry Douglas tune We Hide and Seek.  How can you not love a coffee shop with a morning playlist like that!  (As another digression, check out the terrific live version of The Fox in the video at the end of this post.  It is the version Claire and I saw at Merlefest a few years ago and features a detour into Subterranean Homesick Blues for you Dylan fans.)  Finally, in another bit of good news Bard appears to be holding its own against the Starbucks across the street.

We spent part of yesterday in Rockland, Maine and I had the best (well, truthfully, the only) lobster lasagna I’ve ever had at the Rockland Cafe.  I’ve been lobbying for a meal at a diner this entire trip, and the cafe was the closest we came.  Rockland’s Main Street is pictured in the photo at the top of the post and we had a great time visiting that revitalized commercial area as well as the one in Bath.  (Only the state of Maine has problems with naming Main Streets…you’re never sure if you are on Maine Street or Main Street.  The problem is compounded in Brunswick, where Maine Street turns into Main Street.)

After walking off our lunch in Rockland, we landed at the Thorndike Creamery where we immediately filled our bellies with some great Gifford’s ice cream.  I had the superb Maine Deer Tracks flavor, described on their web site AND by our knowledgeable and chatty server as rich espresso ice cream with crunchy Heath Bar candies and tracks of thick chocolate fudge.

Believe it or not, Candice and I also got a date night to ourselves on this trip, when Andrew and Claire decided they wanted pizza.  We sent them off to fend for themselves in the Old Port Historic District in Portland and we had a sumptuous dinner at The Salt Exchange, a “small plates” restaurant also located in the Old Port District.

Finally, for those in the Boston area we took the advice of our friend Mary Lane Jackmin and tried out the Diesel Cafe located on Davis Square in Somerville.  The food was great, the decor was fun, and the staff was among the friendliest we encountered during a trip where having a bad wait-staff experience was an anomaly.  Their turkey sandwich even gave Amy’s Bakery Arts Cafe in Brattleboro a run for its money!

So, we have one more day before heading home, and Candice has a great restaurant in her sights for this evening.  If it is as good as advertised, I’m sure there will be an update.  Check back, and remember to take in the amazing Chris Thile in the video below.

More to come…


Catch Some Acoustic Music during May in Washington

Del McCoury BandThe Washington, DC area will be host to some terrific acoustic music acts during the month of May, ending with a stellar lineup at DelFest over the Memorial Day weekend.  With the coming of beautiful spring weather, this is a perfect time to hear some live music.

Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of the Monday Night Concerts of the Institute of Musical Traditions.  The 2008-2009 season wraps up in May, but not before a May 4th concert in celebration of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday (I bet they’ll be some righteous sing-alongs) and the final DC-area concert of the Canadian band Tanglefoot on May 11th.   According to the IMT website, Tanglefoot is “Stan Rogers meets Van Halen.”

For some straight-ahead traditional bluegrass, check out the DC Bluegrass Union’s Spring Concert on May 9th with Dan Paisley & Southern Grass.

Bluegrass ExpressThen over the Memorial Day weekend, all bluegrass lovers in the Mid-Atlantic region will be heading to Cumberland, Maryland, for the second annual DelFest, hosted by the Del McCoury Band.  There’s a stellar line-up, including Old Crow Medicine Show, Leftover Salmon, Sam Bush, J.D. Crowe and the New South, Tim O’Brien, the Infamous Stringdusters, and Joe Craven.  If you really want to be authentic, take the Bluegrass Express train from DC to Cumberland for the festival!

Speaking of Tim O’Brien, he’ll be teaching masterclasses this summer at the DC Bluegrass Union Bluegrass & Old Time Camp, July 13-17th, in Westminster, Maryland.  O’Brien is a very talented multi-instrumentalist who can play any type of music and does it well.  Wish I could take a week off!

I love Del McCoury’s version of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightening, so I’ve added the video from a performance at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.   Hope to see you around at some live music venues this month.

More to come…