R&R at the R’n’R Hall of Fame

I’ve had quite a busy year so far, between working on my book, running back and forth between Pittsburgh for my day job and Ligonier for my night gig, and trying to get back on track with other long term writing projects and a community band.  So a weekend getaway was desperately needed!  We recently went to Cleveland and visited The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 01Regardless of certain opinions about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the institution’s questionable nomination criteria and practices (I probably agree with you), I think the museum showcases a wonderful collection of historic musical artifacts and that’s what I appreciate about it. It has Roger Daltrey‘s fringe outfit from the The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus! It has Bruce Springsteen’s lyric notebooks! Look, there’s Neil Peart’s snare drum! The rock hall has also opened up a library and archives on the outskirts of he city where I’d probably give my right arm to work.  Imagine all of the cool documents and artifacts they have there that are NOT on display!  Imagine putting together one of the rotating exhibits such as the current Rolling Stones exhibition! Imagine researching those pieces of history and writing those informative exhibit labels!  (Hire me?! I’ll work remotely from Pittsburgh!)

But I digress! I think Dave and I spent about five hours walking through the museum.  Both of us have been there before, but it was great to take our time absorbing every single bit of information imparted on all of those exhibit labels, gaze at the details of the guitars on display and find our favorite bands’ signatures on the Hall of Fame wall. We also found Dave’s name in a leather-bound notebook containing the master list of charter members who joined when the museum originally opened!  Here are some of my highlights from our visit:

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The Drive-In Turns 79!

First Drive-InToday marks the 79th birthday of the drive-in theatre!  The drive-in phenomenon began on June 6, 1933, when businessman Richard M. Hollingsworth, Jr. opened the first official drive-in theatre in Camden, New Jersey.  Hollingsworth, a manufacturer of automobile waxes and polishes, first experimented in his driveway with a sheet stretched between two trees, a Kodak projector mounted on his car, a radio and a sprinkler to simulate rain.  He took his experiment to another level and designed slanted car ramps, developed a lot plan, built a large screen and projection booth and added a large public address speaker above the screen. Once other amateur businessmen caught wind of Hollingsworth’s prototype and expanded upon it, the American drive-in phenomenon was born.

-In TheaterAs a fusion of America’s romances with the motion picture and the automobile, the drive-in theatre phenomenon captured the public’s imagination, from families looking to enjoy a nice, affordable outing to teenagers looking to enjoy some heavy petting with their sweethearts in the backseats of their cars.  Today, the drive-in is a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time and still a fun, enjoyable thing to do on a warm summer night.

On a personal level, drive-in theatres are very dear to me.  I had so much fun researching the history of the drive-in and visiting theatres a few years ago when I wrote an article on the history of Westmoreland County, PA drive-ins and subsequently put together an exhibit celebrating Pennsylvania drive-in theatres.  I met some great people along the way,  too.  Those opportunities really endeared this cultural icon to my heart. There is just something so magical about sitting in your outside under the stars in your car or on a blanket on a warm summer night and enjoying a movie on the big screen.  The simple things in life are what are truly enjoyable.

Sadly, the number of operating drive-in theatres continues to dwindle each year.  In 1958, there were a record 4,063 drive-ins open throughout the United States. As of 2011, only 366 of these roadside survivors that remain operational, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.  Here in Pennsylvania, we are down to only about 30 that are open this season.  Last year we lost the Hi-Way Drive-in along the Lincoln Highway (Route 30) in Latrobe.  I am heartbroken every time I drive  past the CVS that now sits in front of where the screen used to stand.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to support local drive-ins with your patronage. If we don’t continue to support the drive-in theatre, I fear it won’t be around to celebrate its centennial.

One of my goals is to eventually visit all of the surviving drive-in theatres in Pennsylvania.  I can’t wait hit the road this summer and head to the drive-in with my blanket and my dad’s vintage radio in hand, where I’ll munch on some snack bar popcorn and enjoy watching some movies under the stars.

God Only Knows What I’d Be Without Pet Sounds

The Beach Boys - "Pet Sounds"No other album besides The Who’s Quadrophenia has impacted my life more than The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which was originally released on May 16, 1966.  The album is celebrating its 46th anniversary today.

Songwriter and producer Brian Wilson (with lyricist Tony Asher) created a kaleidoscope of teenage emotions with Pet Sounds: the hopeful romanticism of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”; the spiritual paean to love and devotion that is “God Only Knows”; the troubling introspection of “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”; the heartbreaking disillusionment of “Caroline No”; and all the feelings and anxieties that fill the songs in between.

Thank you Brian for this groundbreaking work of pop music.  It is no wonder that this unorthodox pop album has withstood the test of time, with its universal themes of love and heartbreak, brilliant instrumentation and gorgeous Beach Boys harmonies. I love this album so much.

Good Vibrations

Tonight I saw all surviving Beach Boys on the same stage together, celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary. I can’t believe it.

Pittsburgh’s Gone Batty!

The Dark Knight RisesI have to admit, I’m not being very productive at work today.  From across the street on the 25th floor, I’ve been preoccupied with watching the Gotham City police cars and SWAT trucks lined up along the East Busway and equipment and various crew members clustered around the old rail road tracks behind the post office in downtown Pittsburgh.

The city has been pretty excited about welcoming Batman to the ‘Burgh this summer, with the cast and crew in town to film parts of The Dark Knight Rises, which comes out in summer 2012.  The cast and crew started filming in Lawrenceville and Oakland at the end of July, before moving to downtown yesterday.

Commutes to and from work have been a little hectic due to street closures but all-in-all I don’t think too many people mind the inconvenience when Batman’s in town.  In fact, the entire city is embracing the invasion.  Various local businesses have stocked up on Batman-themed merchandise and decorated their displays accordingly.  Alluding to the film’s code name Magnus Rex, the Tyrannosaurus Rex statue near the Art Institute is cleverly disguised as the Caped Crusader.  Local vendors with their finger on the pop culture pulse have already created Batburgh-themed t-shirts.  The Batburgh Facebook page has been keeping tabs on the filming.

Although quite a few movies have been shot in Pittsburgh over the years, this is the first major film I’ve experienced and it’s been really neat.  Some of my male coworkers who belong to the health club in our neighboring hotel were thrilled to find out that Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) was staying there.  Last weekend, a stadium full of extras were held hostage and entertained by explosions and Tumblers when crews shot scenes at Heinz Field.   Yesterday, it was 80 degrees and sunny in the city, but Oliver Avenue was covered in snow while a camouflaged Tumbler rolled down the street.  Today, I watched the Gotham City police from my office and later walked past crews preparing to shoot an upcoming scene at Trinity Cathedral by dousing the front facade with water (or maybe just washing off snow?).  Who knows what Batman will be up to tomorrow?

2011 Concert Season: The Monkees 45th Anniversary Tour

An Evening with The Monkees: The 45th Anniversary Tour at Stage AE
Pittsburgh, PA – June 22, 2011

Hey hey, they’re The Monkees and they came to my town this summer!

The Monkees are celebrating their 45th anniversary this year by touring the United Kingdom and North America for the first time in ten years.  As soon as I heard Pittsburgh was a stop on the reunion tour, I immediately made plans to go.  It’s been ten years since the first time I saw Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork perform together at the South Park Fairgrounds during their Monkeemania Tour.  Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten the chance to see Mike Nesmith, since the last time he reunited with the other Monkees was for a string of UK tour dates in 1997.

Not only did Davy, Micky and Peter deliver a fantastic and entertaining show, but I ended up standing so close to the stage I could have reached out and pulled Davy into our little mosh pit of fan girls.  Don’t worry, I refrained!

When The Monkees put together the 37-song set list for their tour (no that’s not a typo), they catered to their fans.  From what I’ve read and heard, the majority of fans were thrilled about the mixture of classic hits and deep cuts in the set list.  I know I was – we heard the best of both worlds.  Some uninformed critics may not speak very highly of these deep cuts, but I don’t think you can scoff at the song-writing talents of giants such as Neil Diamond, Carole King/Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart… or Mike Nesmith.

Along with the expected classics such as “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and my favorite, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,”  The Monkees treated us to some awesome deep cuts – delving into the soundtrack from their 1968 cult classic film Head (“The Porpoise Song,” “As We Go Along”) , some Nesmith-penned tunes (“Listen to the Band,” “Mary, Mary”) and tracks from their 1967l album Headquarters where they asserted greater creative control in the studio (“All of Your Toys,” “Shades of Gray”).

It was great to hear Micky’s powerful pipes still in full force, belting out “Randy Scouse Git” and scatting on “Goin’ Down.”  I honestly think he has one of the best and most underrated voices  in pop music.  I loved watching Peter bounce back and forth between the guitar, keyboard, french horn and banjo – what an amazing musician!  Davy exuded so much energy on stage and still flashed those stars in his eyes as he crooned those love songs.  I remembered much I was enamored with him!

I feel like that many fans of The Monkees have to resort to “rescue criticism” when discussing the band’s significance in popular music.  There are a lot of preconceived notions about the band because of their origins and their television show.  However, when you actually study their careers, musical backgrounds and their groundbreaking accomplishments on their television show and albums, you can hardly dismiss their influence on pop culture and popular music.   I especially have a problem with the “Monkees didn’t play their own instruments” nonsense.  It’s a fact that they did.  Also, many groups and producers back in the 1960s used and shared session musicians like the famed Wrecking Crew  to record albums, The Monkees were no different than The Beach Boys or The Mamas and the Papas, for example.

Between Mike’s song-writing, Peter’s musicianship, Micky’s rock star vocals and Davy’s charisma, you have a legitimate band who held their own against other contemporary pop groups of their day.   Although we were missing Nez that evening, the three Monkees celebrated the youthfulness and joy of their music on that stage.

Setlist

  1. I’m a Believer
  2. Mary, Mary
  3. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
  4. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
  5. When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door)
  6. Randy Scouse Git
  7. Valleri
  8. Papa Gene’s Blues
  9. Saturday’s Child
  10. I Wanna be Free
  11. That Was Then, This is Now
  12. I Don’t Think You Know Me
  13. All of Your Toys
  14. What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
  15.  She Hangs Out
  16. Sometime in the Morning
  17. Someday Man
  18. Can You Dig It?
  19.  As We Go Along
  20. Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?
  21.  The Porpoise Song
  22. Daddy’s Song
  23. For Pete’s Sake
  24. Cuddly Toy
  25. Words
  26. She
  27. Shades of Gray
  28. Goin’ Down
  29. It’s Nice To Be With You
  30. Your Auntie Grizelda
  31. Last Train to Clarksville
  32. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
  33.  (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
  34. Daydream Believer
    Encore
  35. Listen to the Band
  36. Pleasant Valley Sunday
  37. I’m a Believer (Reprise)

Videos

Kick ass medley from Head featuring “Can You Dig It,” “As We Go Along,” “Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again,” “Porpoise Song” and “Daddy’s Song.”

Here’s a YouTube video featuring Micky nailing “Goin’ Down.”

Micky busted out the timpani on “Randy Scouse Git.”

I waited until the encore for my favorite song: “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

We can’t forget “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Headquarters was well represented with “All of Your Toys” and “Shades of Gray.”

Movies, Motors & Memories: Pennsylvania’s Drive-In Theaters

DIT Presentation 06

Jennifer Sopko & Brian Butko (Courtesy of Sam Banales)

Please check out the page I just launched on this site detailing my summer 2009 Pennsylvania drive-in theater exhibit at the Ligonier Valley Library’s Pennsylvania Room.  The page includes a virtual tour of the exhibit, plus photos of several Pennsylvania drive-ins that I visited.

Hi-Way Drive-In Theater - Latrobe, PA

As a fusion of America’s romances with the motion picture and the automobile, the drive-in theater phenomenon is not only a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time, but remains a viable entertainment continuing to attract families and film-goers to its steadfast roadside survivors.  The drive-in theater has been around for over 75 years and owners and fans alike are hopeful that the stars will continue to twinkle over these attractions for years to come. 

Please support your local drive-ins; without the support of faithful patrons, these cultural icons will continue disappearing into history.